Police officers stand guard outside the OPEC Secretariat ahead of the the 174th Organization Of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting in Vienna, Austria.(Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg)

OPEC Seeks Last-Minute Compromise as Iran Opposes Supply Boost

(Bloomberg) -- OPEC meets in Vienna on Friday in a final effort to overcome Iranian opposition to a preliminary agreement to boost production by a theoretical 1 million barrels a day -- although the actual increase would be smaller as several countries are unable to raise output.

Following night of drama in Vienna on Thursday, the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which includes Russia and Saudi Arabia, recommended a supply boost despite Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, the Iranian oil minister, walking out of the meeting and predicting OPEC won’t convince him to back an increase. He met with his Saudi counterpart for private talks on Friday morning before the full OPEC meeting, said one delegate.

Iran could wield a veto over any formal deal, but such a move wouldn’t necessarily prevent additional oil coming onto the market. Riyadh could seek to assemble a coalition of countries ready to pump more within their existing agreement, act unilaterally to boost output or abandon the 2016 cuts deal entirely.

To read more about possible outcomes of the meeting, click here.

Zanganeh’s dissent reflects the fact that its petroleum industry is coming under fresh U.S. sanctions. The restrictions, imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from an international accord over Iran’s nuclear program, could significantly curb the country’s oil exports. Saudi Arabia has enough spare capacity to offset those losses and keep a lid on prices, but Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih acknowledged on Thursday that such a move isn’t politically palatable for his fellow OPEC member.

"From the Iranian stand point, an OPEC decision to boost output facilitates an aggressive U.S. policy against Tehran," said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University in New York and a former Obama administration oil official.

Consumers are clearly demanding more supply for the second half of the year and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies should heed their call, Al-Falih said. Still, the kingdom’s desire to preserve the hard-won unity in the group of 24 oil producers has resulted in a convoluted mechanism for satisfying that need.

“One million barrels a day is nominal,” Al-Falih told reporters when describing the increase recommended by the committee meeting on Thursday. “What actually is delivered to the market is going to be a smaller number.”

The real production increase would be around 600,000 barrels a day, a delegate familiar with OPEC’s internal calculations said. Among members of the group, Venezuela is all but certain to be unable to boost output as its oil industry collapses. Outside OPEC, Mexico is unlikely to be able to pump more.

OPEC would need to ratify the recommendation on Friday at its formal meeting. It’s not uncommon for the cartel to deviate from a preliminary agreement. It’s all possible they could find a last-minute compromise that would resolve Iran’s opposition. The cartel will meet again on Saturday with non-members, including Russia, that are part of the original deal to curb supplies.

Historic Agreement

In an historic agreement in late 2016 the OPEC+ group of 24 nations decided to cut 1.8 million barrels of production to revive the oil market from its biggest slump in a generation. Outages in some nations and deeper-than-agreed cuts by others have made the actual reduction larger by about 1 million barrels a day.

The Iran walk-out shows the tension within OPEC after the U.S., China and India put pressure on the cartel to boost production to ease the pain of high oil prices. Brent crude last month surged to a more than three-year high above $80 a barrel. It was up 1.3 percent at $73.98 a barrel at 9:58 a.m. in London on Friday.

“Our customers have spoken loudly and we must listen to them,” Al-Falih said before the ministerial talks on Thursday. He warned his fellow oil producers about rising consumer anxiety and the potential for high prices to have a negative impact on demand.

The upbeat Saudi comments contrasted with the somber tone from the Iranian delegation. “It wasn’t a good meeting,” Zanganeh told reporters after walking out little more than 30 minutes after the gathering got under way. “There were proposals but I don’t think we can reach an agreement.”

The talks in the Austrian capital were the latest steps in a process that has whipsawed oil markets for weeks. Saudi Arabia and Russia’s desire to roll back production cuts has encountered fierce opposition from Iran and Venezuela, while President Trump has lobbed the occasional rhetorical bomb on Twitter at the cartel.

“This is the most geopolitically complex meeting that OPEC has ever had,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of consultant IHS Markit Ltd.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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