Putin’s promise to join OPEC output freeze may not rebalance market, Goldman says

Will Russian-OPEC cooperation be a game changer?

Russia may be ready to join OPEC's efforts to curb oil supply, but concerns remain about whether the deal would rebalance the oil market.

Goldman Sachs analysts said in a Tuesday note that while recent comments by Saudi Arabia and Russia pointed to a greater probability of a production cut, "higher production from Libya, Nigeria and Iraq are reducing the odds of such a deal rebalancing the oil market in 2017." 

The investment bank's comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at an energy conference in Istanbul on Monday, gave a boost to oil prices by saying Russia was ready to join the joint measures to cap production and called for other oil exporters to join in the deal.

The non-OPEC country is the world's largest oil exporter.

Prices had already received a leg up in September after OPEC said it would limit output at its November policy meeting, in the hope of reducing a global supply overhang that has weighed on prices.

Putin's comments  sent oil prices up as much as 3 percent in the U.S. session. European Brent hit a one-year high while U.S. West Texas Intermediate rose to its highest in four months. Both grades were slightly lower around noon Tuesday in Asia, with Brent moving around $51.20 a barrel, while U.S. crude was around $53 a barrel.

But Goldman cautioned that it was premature to assume that it would be pushed through.

"An agreement to cut production, while increasingly likely, remains premature given the high supply uncertainty in 2017 and would prove self-defeating if it were to target sustainably higher oil prices," the bank's analysts wrote.

Russia president Vladimir Putin, said at the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul that Russia was ready to join OPEC in curbing crude output.
Kerem Uzel | Bloomberg | Getty Images

ClipperData's Commodity Research Director Matt Smith was equally wary. 

With seven "long weeks" to go before the next OPEC policy meeting, it remained to be seen how the oil cartel and Russia would act on their verbal commitments, he said

"Until we get some actual physical barrels being taken off the market or we get some actual levels put in place, then it is just words and no action," Smith told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Tuesday.

The most significant factor in the loose deal was that de facto OPEC leader Saudi Arabia had flinched and shown itself willing to make concessions, most notably with arch-rival Iran, by letting the country increase production as it emerged from sanctions. 

With Saudi Arabia as OPEC's biggest exporter, "if there is going to be a production freeze or a production cut, it is Saudi Arabia that is going to do that heavy lifting," Smith explained.

And there was the question of how U.S. energy producers would respond to an oil production cut. The rise in oil prices meant shale players would now be able to "hunker down and keep on producing", which would contribute to a rise in energy supplies globally, Smith said.  

Smith forecast that oil prices were likely to see limited upside from current levels. 

Goldman said a failure to reach an production cut would push prices sharply lower to $43 a barrel due to a global supply surplus in the fourth quarter of 2016. If a deal was reached but with its impact offset by an increase in other sources of supply, U.S. crude would hold around $52.5 a barrel in 2017, the bank added.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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