×

Wilbur Ross predicts $35-$40 oil, no freeze at June OPEC meeting

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross is among the players predicting oil will languish in the mid-$30s after the Doha summit ended without a deal.

Ross, chairman and CEO of private equity firm WL Ross & Co, told CNBC's "Asia Squawk Box" on Monday that prices would range between $35 and the low $40s in the near future.

A summit in Doha between the world's largest oil-producing countries ended without an agreement on Sunday, as leaders failed to broker an agreement to freeze output in order to boost sagging crude prices.

The conference's failure sent U.S. crude and global benchmark Brent fall as much as 5 percent each to around $38 and $41 a barrel, respectively.

Prices were unlikely to return to the $20 level, Ross said, but added that they wouldn't rise significantly above $40 either given the market's persistent problem of high inventories.

Wilbur Ross, chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Wilbur Ross, chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co.

Those hoping for an agreement by OPEC's (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) next meeting in June will be sorely disappointed, he continued, warning that no deal was likely until Iran returned its production to a pre-sanctions level.

"It's been my belief for some time that Iran wouldn't agree to any limits on their production until they're back up to four million barrels a day...In the meantime, I don't see Saudi Arabia cutting their production while Iran keeps building theirs," Ross said. "These talks were doomed for failure."

The June meeting could possibly produce a structural framework for a potential deal on freezing output, he noted.

"But even if you reach a deal on production, the next challenge is enforcement," Ross said.

"Part of the reason we got to where we did with the Saudi's announcing they weren't going to play any more is because in prior agreements, the only ones who abided by them were the Saudis and they apparently have gotten tired of cutting their production just so other parties can keep theirs up."

Victor Shum, vice president of IHS Energy Insight, echoed those sentiments.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Brent drops to the mid-$30s today or within next few days," he said.

Still, Kuwait's ongoing worker strike could help limit losses, he added.

Employees in the Gulf nation's oil and gas sector are striking in retaliation for government plans to lower wages, and their protests are already impacting Kuwait's output levels. On Sunday, state-owned producer Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) said output had fallen to 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) from about 3 million bpd previously, Reuters reported, citing a translation of KOC's Arabic tweets.

"We do need pricing in the mid-$30s in order to make sure U.S. production will continue to decline at a fast pace. That will help achieve rebalancing of oil markets by the third quarter this year," Shum added.

"I think technically, you could look at a 50 percent correction of this big short squeeze we had from the $26 level up to $40 range, so the mid-$30s is a real possibility," agreed Juerg Kiener, managing director and chief investment officer of Swiss Asia Capital Singapore.

While many investors are staying clear of energy given the price volatility, Ross sees opportunity. The contrarian player is famous for buying distressed assets, including a stake in the Bank of Cyprus in 2014 when the lender was hammered by loan defaults.

"We're buying low-priced, beaten-down bonds of U.S. shale producers, particularly those in the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford," he said, referring to shale-oil producing areas in Texas.

"There is a risk of default but based on our analysis, the companies we've been buying have enough available lines of credit and cash flow to maintain drilling levels and pay coupons on their bonds."

—Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.