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Saudi energy minister expects everyone to stick with OPEC deal, doesn't forsee an exit soon

  • Industry analysts covering OPEC in Vienna still widely expect OPEC to prolong cuts until the end of 2018
  • However, while efforts to clear a global supply overhang are projected to continue, a deal may also be agreed for a shorter time frame – like three or six months
  • Or the deal could be for nine months with more emphasis on reviews
  • The exporters reached the current deal last November and have already extended the agreement once through March 2018

Saudi Arabia fully expects OPEC members and allied producers to agree to an extension to supply cuts on Thursday.

Ahead of an announcement over oil output policy later in the day, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told CNBC that OPEC's consensus was "almost complete," before adding he did not anticipate an exit to the deal in the first six months of 2018.

OPEC, Russia and nine other producers are currently cutting production by around 1.8 million barrels per day until March. Industry analysts covering the 14-member group in the Austrian capital still widely expect supply cuts to be prolonged until the end of next year.

However, while efforts to clear a global supply overhang are projected to continue, a deal may also be agreed for a shorter time frame — like three or six months — or it could be for nine months with more emphasis on reviews.

Iraq's Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi told CNBC Wednesday that any such caveat would be unnecessary.

When asked whether OPEC's second-largest producer was supportive of a mid-stream review in either the first or second quarter of 2018, Al-Luaibi replied: "No, no. The existing declaration (will) finish at the end of March. So we extend this another nine months, so that means it will end by the end of 2018."

'All producers are aligned'

The somewhat rocky road to reaching an agreement by Thursday's OPEC meeting has also exposed some cracks in the new world order of oil – where Saudi Arabia and Russia use their combined heft to influence prices and global supply. The cause of those "cracks" in the new 'R-OPEC' appears to be U.S. shale oil which has become a competitor to OPEC, Russia and other oil producers.

But Nigeria's Energy Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said Wednesday that OPEC and Russia were not in danger of an alliance breakdown on Thursday. Asked explicitly whether OPEC members are in agreement, but Russia is not aligned with OPEC, he said, "No, we're all aligned."

Unlike OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, Russia is less reliant on higher oil prices and has typically been keen not to concede too much market share to its rivals. But with several new oil fields poised to come online next year, a number of Russian firms have voiced their concern over a possible extension of the deal.

Johannes Benigni, chairman of JBC Energy Group, told CNBC Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would ignore calls for a change of strategy and instead focus on the "bigger picture."

Russia's presidential election is due to take place in March 2018. And, while he is yet to officially declare his candidacy, Putin appears all but certain to seek re-election next spring.

"He (Putin) does not want oil prices now to be a subject of discussion in the presidential run so that is why I think he will stay and support the current deal," Benigni said.

OPEC plans to hold an open session, with media, from around 9 a.m. London time before going into a closed session at midday, according to a tentative schedule on OPEC's website. Non-OPEC members are set to join at around 3 p.m., with a joint press conference to follow proceedings.

Brent crude traded at around $63.43 on Thursday morning, up 0.51 percent, while U.S. crude was trading at $57.42, up 0.21 percent.

The price of oil collapsed from near $120 a barrel in June 2014 due to weak demand, a strong dollar and booming U.S. shale production. OPEC's reluctance to cut output was also seen as a key reason behind the fall. But, the oil cartel soon moved to curb production — along with other oil-producing nations — in late 2016.

The exporters reached the current deal last November and have already extended the agreement once through March 2018.

— CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report.