Call it very, very cautious optimism. Maybe.
Oil prices climbed ahead of the December 5 meeting of OPEC in Vienna.
The oil market got a boost from a report today, December 4, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that showed U.S. crude inventories fell by 4.9 million barrels last week.
Absent other news on most days that would have pushed oil prices significantly higher across the board. But for the day while international benchmark Brent oil soared to hit $63.00 a barrel, a gain of 3.58%, U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate moved ahead only 0.12% to $58.50 a barrel.
Hanging over the oil market is the hope that Saudi Arabia will be able to get OPEC and OPEC+ countries to take action to prop up oil prices by further reducing production, and the fear that Russia will continue to cheat on its promise to cut output.
Ahead of the meeting Saudi Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has said his country will raise production slightly if other countries continue to miss their production targets. If other OPEC countries come into compliance, Saudi Arabia will lead the way toward further reducing production.
Iraq, the OPEC country with the worst record on meeting reduced production targets, has waffled, first saying that it would cut production by 400,000 barrels a day but then saying it wants to keep the current plan until the end of 2021. The current production agreement is set to expire in March of 2020. That agreement was supposed to reduce oil output by 1.2 million barrels a day since the start of 2019.
And then there’s OPEC+ member Russia, which has exceeded its production targets in all but three months of 2019. And that has said it is looking to have its output of condensate produced from Russia’s natural gas fields formally excluded from its quota. That would likely lead other countries such as Kazakhstan, a huge producer of condensate, to ask for similar treatment. Condensate accounted for about 6% of total Russian oil production last year.
Current low oil prices are putting extreme pressure on government budgets in OPEC and OPEC+ countries so it’s by no means certain that producers will agree to further cuts in output when they’re struggling to balance their finances.
A failure to agree on new cuts or to at least extend the current pact would certainly depress oil markets tomorrow.