Hoping for an OPEC supply cut? Forget it

Any expectations that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will cut its production quota next month took another dent Monday after analysts argued that the downside risks for the commodity's price aren't being fully realized.

Rokneddin Javadi, Iran's deputy oil minister, told Reuters Monday that he didn't think the cartel would curb its output at its next meeting which is due on June 5. In November the cartel decided not to cut its output, a move that sent the price of oil spiraling down from near $120 a barrel in June last year to lows of around $45 a barrel in January. OPEC, which produces 40 percent of the world's crude oil, has been locked in a battle of nerves over supply and price with the rapidly growing U.S. shale industry.

Last week OPEC denied reports that it had drawn up recommendations that its members return to production quotas and that some other delegates had already spoken of the possibility that output would be maintained at 30 million barrels a day.

Iran - a member of the group of 12 oil-producing nations - could even be set to surprise oil traders with a major surge in production, according to David Hewitt, the co-head of global oil and gas equity research at Credit Suisse.

"At $66 to $67 (a barrel) for Brent we're simply not pricing in the risk that Iran returns and increases its production in early July. That would have a significant downward effect," he told CNBC Monday.

Iran's Javadi also pointed to this move Monday, according to a Reuters report, saying that he hoped the country's crude oil exports would return to pre-sanctions levels of 2.5 (million barrels per day) within three months. This comes as international negotiations seek to lift the tough penalties imposed on the country by major powers.

However, OPEC countries have actually marginally increased their production in recent months, according to market watchers. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are raising their rig counts, and Iraq and Libya are continuing to increase production, the International Energy Agency (IEA) highlighted last week. Iranian supplies have also hit their highest since July 2012, it also added.


OPEC headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
Patti Domm | CNBC
OPEC headquarters in Vienna, Austria.

Tom Pugh, a commodities economist at Capital Economics, predicts that this would weigh on prices in the second half of the year as OPEC "just adds to the glut of oil already in the market."

"High stock levels and OPEC supply mean that even when demand picks up more strongly, the market should remain well-supplied," he said in a note last week. "As a result we think prices are now more likely to fall than to rise further over the rest of the year. Our end-2015 forecast for Brent remains $60."

Hewitt estimated that prices for Brent crude could even hit $40 a barrel for "a very short period" if Iran opened the spigots and the reduction in U.S. shale production failed to properly materialize.

It looks like global speculators are equally bearish, too. Data on Friday from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) showed money managers had cut their net "long" positions last week - with a "long" position meaning they were betting on the price to rise. This came on the same day as new figures from research firm Baker Hughes showed that a recent steep fall in the U.S. oil rig count had slowed slightly last week.

Goldman Sachs. meanwhile, cut its crude oil price forecasts for 2016 and 2020 in a note published Saturday. It said that OPEC and U.S. shale productivity would rise and weigh on the price of the commodity, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures traded higher at around $67.01 a barrel by 10:00 a.m. London time and U.S. WTI crude was higher at $60.03. Renewed tensions in the Middle East over the weekend have raised supply concerns and buoyed prices, at least in the near term.