Consensus on oil output cut extension aside, OPEC and non-OPEC partners have much to resolve
OPEC and its key non-OPEC partners in a production cut deal appear to have aligned their messaging, with a nine-month extension to the agreement seemingly in the works when they meet in Vienna on Thursday.
Under the veneer of harmony, however, divisions within the coalition still remain.
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Iraq, for instance, has insisted for months that the deal concerns exports and not production, contrary to the text of the agreement posted on OPEC’s website.
Iraq has been among the least compliant OPEC members in meeting its production quota under the deal, according to estimates provided by OPEC’s six secondary sources used to monitor output.
The UAE has similarly been slow to comply with its quota, despite its pledges that significant production cuts would be evident in April and May due to field maintenance works.
Outside of OPEC, Russia only recently attained its full 300,000 b/d cut commitment, slower than the pace that many within OPEC, among them kingpin Saudi Arabia, had expected.
And analysts question whether Russia will be able or willing to maintain that level of output reduction, despite its energy minister, Alexander Novak, on Monday jointly announcing with his Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih that they would push for a nine-month extension, longer than the six months many traders and analysts had been expecting.
“As new production continues to ramp up from Rosneft’s fields and Lukoil’s Caspian fields, overall [Russian] production levels are likely to increase in the second half of the year,” Barclays analysts said in a note, adding that the output cuts in the first half of the year came due to delays with new field starts, weather, natural declines and fast-tracked maintenance.
The willingness of Kazakhstan to commit to an extension is also in doubt, as the country has yet to comply with even its modest 20,000 b/d agreed cut and has long anticipated a ramp-up in production at its giant Kashagan field.
S&P Global Platts, one of OPEC’s secondary sources used to monitor output within the bloc, has pegged compliance among the 11 OPEC members with quotas under the deal at 117% through the first four months of 2017, largely on the back of cuts made by Saudi Arabia.
As for non-OPEC compliance, the International Energy Agency has estimated it at 66%.
Joe McMonigle, an analyst with Hedgeye who regularly attends OPEC meetings, said that in public, at least, “lack of compliance will get glossed over by OPEC because it’s more concerned about [market] sentiment at the moment.”
“I do think the extension will have some compliance challenges, especially on the non-OPEC side and Russia.”
Still unclear is whether an extension would continue to exempt Libya and Nigeria from the cuts.
Production in those two countries, which have been hit hard by militancy, is only a combined 6,300 b/d above their October levels, according to the latest Platts OPEC survey, assuaging fears that robust recoveries in both would undo a lot of the output cuts by the rest of OPEC.
But prospects in both countries appear to be improving, with Libyan factions engaged in unity talks in the UAE at the beginning of the month and Nigeria gearing up to load some of the first cargoes of key export grade Forcados, which has been under force majeure.
MORE DEAL PARTICIPANTS?
All of this suggests that OPEC and its non-OPEC cohorts will have a full agenda to discuss in Vienna.
Under the original deal, set to expire in June, OPEC agreed to cut 1.2 million b/d from October levels, while 11 non-OPEC countries committed to lower output by a combined 558,000 b/d.
On Tuesday, Novak said some three to five new countries could join the agreement, though he declined to name them, and Algerian energy minister Noureddine Boutarfa said Thursday that “several African countries” had expressed their interest in taking part.
Turkmenistan is expected to participate in the talks, an OPEC source said, though it was not yet confirmed whether the country would agree to cut its production.
Ministers could arrive in Vienna as early as Monday to prep for a meeting of the Joint Monitoring Committee on Wednesday. The committee is chaired by Kuwait and includes ministers from Algeria, Venezuela, Oman and Russia.
At that meeting, it is expected to provide its formal recommendation on whether to extend the deal in light of current market conditions.
Ministers will then gather for dinner Wednesday night to discuss their options, before OPEC convenes its formal meeting around 10 am Thursday local time.
Immediately following that meeting, ministers from the non-OPEC deal participants will join their OPEC counterparts at the OPEC secretariat, with those proceedings tentatively scheduled to begin at 3 pm.
Analysts are largely in agreement that, despite whatever internal tensions might exist within the coalition, the nine-month extension is the likely result of the meeting, though the text of the agreement may include some flexibility for participants to adjust their output if market fundamentals shift significantly.
Kuwaiti Energy Minister Essam al-Marzouq has already floated the idea that if demand in the second half of the year picks up, the cuts may be eased.
Tamas Vargas, an analyst with PVM Oil Associates, said oil prices will play a key role in OPEC’s decision making, even as they insist that the output cuts are aimed at lowering inventories and not targeting a specific price.
“Brent close to $45/b or even below in two months might force major producers to go for [deeper cuts], but if prices rise in the coming two months for whatever reasons, the approach towards active market management could turn out to be more relaxed,” he said.