The plan approved Thursday by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would involve production cuts of 1 million barrels a day through the end of June to be shared among its 13 member nations. It also calls for another 500,000 barrels of daily cuts to be divided among the cartel’s 10 Russia-led oil-producing allies.
OPEC earlier in the day had agreed to only a three-month cut. But Saudi Arabia decided it wanted to force Russia into a more ambitious effort. Other OPEC members worried that the plan announced earlier in the day had failed to stimulate flagging prices, cartel delegates said.
“It’s a gamble,” one delegate said.
Brent crude, the global benchmark oil price, ended the day down 2.2%.
The production cuts would come on top of 500,000 barrels a day of existing curbs, which OPEC has agreed to carry through the end of the year, the cartel said. Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf producers are also considering additional production cuts outside the group, delegates said.
The coronavirus’s impact on oil demand has weighed heavily on recent talks among members of the so-called OPEC+ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Brent is down 23% so far this year, as the virus outbreak hammers global demand.
The epidemic is expected to diminish global crude demand by as much as 2.1 million barrels a day in the first half of 2020, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, IHS Markit and Standard Chartered forecast a decline in demand for 2020’s first two quarters by around 2 million barrels a day from the same period a year earlier. Gulf nations’ additional cuts would take OPEC+’s cuts to 2.1 million barrels a day.
“It’s not just about bleeding demand growth,” said Mohammad Darwazah, director for geopolitics and energy at Medley Global Advisors. “We’ve had inventories building through this whole period and it’s about cleaning up the market and 2.1 [million barrels in cuts] would go a long way to reversing these builds.”
The OPEC plan needs the approval of Russia and other non-OPEC allies, which are set to weigh the proposal on Friday. Russia has agreed in principle to reduce its output but hasn’t approved any production figure, OPEC officials said.
“Tomorrow, everything depends on a non-OPEC agreement,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, told reporters as he exited the meeting. “If [Russia] doesn’t accept it, we have no deal…We have no plan.”
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak refused to endorse the Saudi-backed plan at a technical meeting Wednesday and flew back to Moscow to consult with President Vladimir Putin, according to OPEC delegates. Mr. Novak also wants Russia to increase output this summer, a move that contradicts the cartel’s nine-months plan, according to one delegate.
An OPEC official who attended Wednesday’s gathering said Moscow’s delays are negotiation tactics aimed at securing a deal that would have Russia cut relatively little. Russia is now seeking cuts of about 100,000 barrels a day, leaving Saudi Arabia to bear the brunt of the reduction effort, OPEC officials said.
Russia’s hard bargaining is increasingly wearing down Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, casting a cloud on the future of their four-year alliance. “Maybe it’s time to consider the whole point of non-OPEC,” said one Persian Gulf official.
The Saudis’ commitment to carry the bulk of the cuts on their own could lead to further complacency among OPEC nations, some of which have historically flouted production cut agreements.
“The Saudis want collective action, and going above and beyond means they may only encourage more free-riding,” said Medley Global Advisors’ Mr. Darwazah.
Oil prices swung higher following the news that Saudi and its Gulf neighbors were considering their own additional cuts, before quickly reversing those gains.
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