By Jason Simpkins
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Friday said it would cut oil production quotas by 1.5 million barrels a day in an attempt to put a floor under oil prices, which have plunged nearly 60% from their July record.
"Oil prices have witnessed a dramatic collapse - unprecedented in speed and magnitude," OPEC said, adding that prices have fallen to levels that could jeopardize "many existing oil projects and lead to the cancellation or delay of others, possibly resulting in a medium-term supply shortage."
The 1.5 million-barrel daily reduction exceeded the expectation of many analysts, but failed to rally crude prices which have plummeted 57% since hitting a record high record high of $147.27 a barrel on July 11. Light, sweet crude for November delivery fell $3.09, or 4.55%, to settle at $64.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday.
"The financial crisis is already having a noticeable impact on the world economy, dampening the demand for energy, in general, and oil in particular," the cartel said. "This slowdown in oil demand is serving to exacerbate the situation in a market which has been over-supplied with crude for some time."
On Oct. 10, the International Energy Agency (IEA) lowered its forecast for 2008 global demand growth by 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 440,000. The agency cut its 2009 growth forecast by 190,000 bpd to 690,000.
In its October report, OPEC reduced its forecast for 2009 demand by 190,000 barrels a day, as well. It was the cartel's seventh-consecutive forecast reduction. OPEC said that total oil consumption in developed countries fell by more than 1 million barrels per day in the 12 months through to the end of September.
Developed nations in 2009 will need only 400,000 barrels a day more oil than this year, the cartel said, whereas demand from emerging markets will increase by an estimated 1.1 million barrels.
The cut announced Friday, effective Nov. 1, was at the high end of analysts' expectations, but as prices continue to slide, there is now a growing sense that the reduction won't be enough.
Addison Armstrong, director of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut, told Bloomberg News that a further reduction of 500,000 barrels a day is possible.
OPEC President and Algerian Oil Minister Chekib Khelil said at a news conference that the cuts could reach 1.8 million barrels per day by the end of the year, which would mean an additional cut of 300,000 barrels a day, perhaps at the group's next meeting in December. He denied that there would be any impact on inflation, or growth, if such a cut were necessary, and that the cartel would be willing to increase production should prices rebound.
With control over 40% of the world's oil supply OPEC is the arbiter of oil prices. As such, the group walks a very fine line. If the cartel pulls the reins too hard on production, it risks a price spike that would cause demand to drop even further.
"They have to be careful of cutting production in a tough [global] economy," Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading told The Associated Press. "They could make [falling oil demand] even worse."
However, if OPEC overproduces, the price of oil could collapse, just is it did 11 years ago. In 1998, the price of crude skidded 28% over a 10-month period, below $10 a barrel, after OPEC raised quotas in the face of the Asian financial contagion. Oil prices that low make it unprofitable for corporations to begin new projects or seek out new oil sources.
A lack of exploration and development would make the world vulnerable to an energy shock when the global economy regains traction and demand picks back up. In fact, many analysts believe that even at current prices enough projects will be delayed, and enough investment curtailed, to spur a serious rebound in oil prices within the next few years.
Barclays Capital, for one, said the world faces "a serious supply-side crunch" within a few years when world demand comes back online.
"The dominant market view remains that sub-$70 short run prices are a stop on what might be a circuitous route back above $90, not a wind-swept motel on the route to even lower prices," Barclays said.
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- Associated Press:
OPEC treading a fine line