Opec output slides again amid planned cuts and US sanctions

The logo of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) is seen inside their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Dec 7, 2018. (Reuters pic)

LONDON: Opec’s crude production slumped again last month as the cartel implemented planned cutbacks in full and some members were hit by US sanctions.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates delivered all — and in some cases more — of the supply curbs they pledged to try to prevent a global glut. Opec and its allies are embarking on a new round of cuts as record American shale output and fragile fuel demand put downward pressure on crude prices.

Still, almost half of the output drop was caused by unplanned losses in Venezuela and Iran, which are under trade restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump. The plunge shows that, despite Trump’s guidance this week that OPEC should “relax” instead of restraining supply, the group’s production is highly influenced by the president’s foreign policy.

Output from the 14 members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries fell by 560,000 barrels a day in February to 30.5 million a day, according to a Bloomberg survey of officials, analysts and ship-tracking data.

As a result, the 11 members involved in the agreement to rein in supply have implemented 108% of the reduction they announced late last year. Their output is broadly in line with the 30.6 million daily barrels the group estimates is needed this year, meaning that global markets should be in balance.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih gently rebuffed Trump’s call to ease up on the strategy, saying in Riyadh on Feb 27 that Opec should continue to limit supply into the second half of the year. At about US$66 a barrel, crude prices remain below the levels needed by the kingdom, and most other Opec members, to cover government spending.

Venezuela, Iran

Nevertheless, about 250,000 barrels of February’s output reduction came from members exempt from the supply accord.

Venezuela suffered the biggest decline, losing 160,000 barrels a day to 1.07 million a day, the lowest since a labour strike virtually shut down the country’s production in 2003. The US, Venezuela’s biggest oil customer, is banning imports as Trump accuses President Nicolas Maduro of fraudulently clinging to power, and gives backing to Maduro’s political opponents.

Iran saw the next-biggest reduction, declining by 90,000 barrels a day to 2.65 million, the lowest since 2013. The US re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil trade late last year after Trump abandoned an accord with the Islamic Republic relating to its nuclear program.