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Oil prices could plunge to $25 as OPEC deal hopes die

By all appearances, a deal among OPEC members appears to be dead on arrival.

Saudi Arabia is demanding both Iran and Iraq participate in the cutback scheme, while Iran is demanding that Saudi Arabia undertake virtually all the targeted reduction alone.

Obviously, that is a wide chasm to overcome by tomorrow.

Iran's stance comes from the following conclusion by the Iranians:

"Those who profited the most from Libya, Nigeria and Iran's oil being out of the market should play the most in stabilizing the market, not to expect others to."

That points the finger squarely at Saudi Arabia.

OPEC members played a good game, over the past several months, stringing along the market with unceasing rhetoric and various impromptu meetings, ahead of Wednesday's confab.

"In the past, Saudi Arabia reduced output levels once the summer demand ebbed, but not this year. Instead, they have maintained production and ramped up exports, taking the battle for market share with Iran and others to new heights."

Now, the market will taketh away what it had giveth.

The question now is: how ugly will it get?

Saudi Arabia oil output has surged to nearly 10.5 million barrels per day (bpd). The rise, initiated earlier this year, was meant to satisfy a seasonal rise in internal demand over the summer, while maintaining global market share. (Saudi Arabia uses unrefined, crude oil as a feedstock for electrical generation units, which are fired-up to meet demand from heavy air-conditioning use.)

In the past, Saudi Arabia reduced output levels once the summer demand ebbed, but not this year. Instead, they have maintained production and ramped up exports, taking the battle for market share with Iran and others to new heights.

In a recent meeting with Iranian officials, the Saudis supposedly threatened to unleash even more production and exports, if there was no OPEC deal.

There is precedent for Saudi Arabia to sink the oil market, in an effort to get other producers to come to heel. Besides the current iteration, back in 1998-1999, the Saudis flooded the market with supply to push back against Venezuela's adventurism in the oil market, and prices fell to around $10 per barrel.

That was ugly. The damage done to U.S. production was never repaired, until the hydrofracturing revolution.

This week, the Saudi oil minister appeared to be preparing for a post-meeting collapse by claiming that the market will rebalance, even without an output accord.

He may be right about that, but it will take time. Prices likely will be unable to recover, on that basis, until late next year, especially with increasing volumes expected from Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Azerbaijan, among others, without even mentioning U.S. shale players who will re-emerge like summer flies on a warm late fall day.

The wait for what happens next will end by Wednesday afternoon, if not sooner. This time around the ugliness will likely hit its peak at the low price point from earlier this year near $25 per barrel.


Commentary by John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital, an investment-management firm that specializes in commodities. Follow him on Twitter @KilduffReport.

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