Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s energy and industry minister, center, speaks to reporters ahead of the 174th OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, on June 22, 2018. (Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg)

Saudis Pledge Decisive Oil Supply Boost to Comfort Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia promised to act decisively to keep oil prices under control, signaling a real supply boost approaching 1 million barrels a day is on the way to global markets.

“We will do whatever is necessary to keep the market in balance,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told reporters on Saturday, while sitting alongside his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak at OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Consumers can rest assured that “their energy supplies are available, are being stewarded by a responsible group of producers.”

Al-Falih went out of his way to give a detailed explanation of how the so-called OPEC+ deal will work, clarifying a vaguely worded agreement and contradictory statements from other ministers that spurred a rally in crude futures on Friday. It would be troubling if that jump in prices became a trend, the minister said, adding that producers with spare capacity, such as Saudi Arabia, can fill any gap left by falling production elsewhere.

Saudis Pledge Decisive Oil Supply Boost to Comfort Consumers

"The only country that can increase production is Saudi Arabia, so its interpretation of the deal is the one that matters," said Ann-Louise Hittle, a veteran OPEC watcher at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

Al-Falih’s assurances -- backed up by Novak -- follow pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-OPEC tweeting, as well as more conventional lobbying by major oil buyers. They give Saudi Arabia and Russia more room to ease consumer anxiety about prices, but risk a backlash from Iran and Venezuela, founder members of the Organization or Petroleum Exporting Countries that insist members can’t snatch one another’s market share.

An Iranian OPEC delegate immediately criticized the Saudi position, saying the agreement didn’t allow any member to replace someone else’s market share. Countries that do so will be cheating on the deal, the delegate said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. Venezuela’s Energy Minister Manuel Quevedo made the same argument on Twitter.

The Iranian delegate added, however, that Venezuela and other countries producing below their quota have few ways of enforcing their views, beyond statements of disapproval.

Friday’s deal between OPEC members pledged a “nominal” supply increase of 1 million barrels a day. In reality, ministers said several countries are unable to pump more so the real output boost would have been smaller -- ranging from Iran’s 500,000 barrel-a-day estimate up to Iraq’s prediction for as much as 800,000.

The vague wording of that agreement left it open to such a broad range of interpretations and, helping to secure a last-minute compromise that overcame Iranian opposition to any increase.

Nominal vs Real

Saturday’s accord, in which non-OPEC countries ratified the previous day’s deal, dropped the pledge that the 1 million barrel-a-day increase should be shared proportionally among members, opening the way for the full volume to flow, Al-Falih said.

"If we allocated the number pro-rata basis among the 24 countries, given the capacity of those countries that can increase, it had been estimated that about 60 percent will be achieved,” Al-Falih said. “But because we went away from allocation on a pro-rata basis, we will be closer to 1 million than to 600,000 barrels a day."

The group’s communique still pledged a return to 100 percent compliance with the original 2016 agreement -- ending a period of deeper-than-intended cuts -- but Al-Falih insisted that no individual country will be subject to a strict output cap.

Novak was fully aligned with Al-Falih, saying Russia would contribute as much as 200,000 barrels a day to the supply boost.

Tankers Sail

“The real increase of production would be a figure exactly close to 1 million,” Novak said in an interview with Bloomberg television. "The decision is very straightforward.” United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei gave similar assurances.

Al-Falih also said the OPEC+ Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which has overseen the group’s supply cuts, will play a key role in managing how production is increased. Both Russia and Saudi Arabia are members, and the committee’s increasing importance will help cement their dominance over a coalition that pumps more than half the world’s crude.

State oil company Saudi Aramco had anticipated this week’s decision and was already ramping up output, Al-Falih said. He declined to say how much the kingdom would pump in July, but promised a month-on-month hike in the order of "hundreds of thousands of barrels" rather than "ten of thousands." He later floated a range of 250,000 to 400,000 barrels a day.

Tanker-tracking data for early June compiled by Bloomberg showed a significant jump in shipments from the kingdom.

"The oil is already on the water," said Daniel Gerber, the head of tanker tracker company Petro-Logistics SA in Geneva. 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.