Higher domestic crude oil inventories, increased imports and continued robust drilling by U.S. companies are pushing oil prices down this week, a move that may be exacerbated if OPEC members hold the line on their aggressive production quota at Friday's semiannual gathering in Vienna.
Among oil market watchers, the consensus view — held by 100 percent of analysts and traders surveyed in a CNBC poll earlier this week — is that OPEC will decline to curb pumping activity at the meeting.
The gathering is expected to wrap up with a news conference by midmorning in U.S. markets. Given that expectation, a surprise OPEC cut would likely spur a crude rally — an unlikely, but possible, outcome.
"If they do something, the market could rally $20 on a knee jerk," said one commodity trader.
So while hedge fund and other major commodity market participants will watch closely for both the decision and the verbiage coming out of the OPEC meeting, many appear to be more focused on other fundamental factors that are creating downside pressure.