OPEC's oil production plunges to four-year low in March as Saudis slash output

Key Points
  • OPEC's output fell by 534,000 barrels per day in March to just over 30 million as the producer group continues coordinated production cuts.
  • Saudi Arabia takes another 324,000 bpd off the market, bringing output to just under 9.8 million bpd.
  • Venezuela's production plunges by 289,000 bpd to 732,000 bpd as its oil industry struggles in the country's economic crisis and U.S. energy sanctions.
Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih listens during a news conference after an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, November 30, 2017.
Heinz-Peter Bader | Reuters

Oil supplies from OPEC sank by half a million barrels a day in March, hitting a four-year low, as Saudi Arabia continued to slash output and Venezuela's production plunged amid ongoing economic crisis.

The monthly production decline amounts to roughly half a percent of global oil demand. The drop is greater than the total monthly output of four of OPEC's 14 members.

The producer group, along with Russia and other nonmember countries, is trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018. The production curbs by the so-called OPEC+ alliance aim to drain oversupply from the oil market and boost prices.

OPEC's output fell by 534,000 bpd in March to 30.02 million bpd, according to independent sources cited by the group in its monthly report. This year, supply from the group has fallen by more than 1.5 million bpd, helping to drive international Brent crude prices 30 percent higher.

The headline OPEC output was the lowest since February 2015, when the group pumped 29.97 million bpd, though its membership has changed several times since then.

Much of the March decline is due to Saudi Arabia's willingness to aggressively cut production. In March, the Saudis took another 324,000 bpd off the market, bringing output to just under 9.8 million bpd and delivering on Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih's vow to pump well below 10 million bpd.

Saudi output has now fallen by about 1.3 million bpd from its all-time high at 11.1 million in November, when the kingdom's production surged to offset U.S. energy sanctions on OPEC-member Iran.

The terminal decline in Venezuelan output continues to help OPEC+ cut global oil supplies. Following a series of blackouts that disrupted oil operations, Venezuela's production plunged by 289,000 bpd to 732,000 bpd in March.

Venezuela, already mired in a years-long economic crisis, is now grappling with U.S. sanctions against state-owned oil giant PDVSA and a political standoff between socialist leader Nicolas Maduro and opposition figure Juan Guaido.

Saudis driving oil price higher, says RBC's Croft
Saudis driving oil price higher, says RBC's Croft

The next biggest decline came from Iraq, which cut production by 126,000 bpd in March to just over 4.5 million barrels. That brought OPEC's second-largest producer roughly in line with its production cap for the first time this year.

The declines were offset by Libya, where output surged by 196,000 bpd to nearly 1.1 million bpd. The nation's production often fluctuates due to unrest, and its supplies are now in question after an insurgent Libyan general sent his troops into Tripoli, the seat of the rival United Nations-recognized government.

OPEC+ alliance members will meet in June to discuss oil policy. Saudi Arabia is leaning toward carrying over the production cuts into the second half of 2019, while Russia refuses to commit to an extension.

This year's oil price rally has prompted President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to hike output and tamp down prices. The producer group has so far ignored Trump's warnings.