Oil whipsaws in choppy trade as Street awaits OPEC output decision

A 1.6 million bpd cut is 'very much a live option': RBC Capital Markets
A 1.6 million bpd cut is 'very much a live option': RBC Capital Markets

Oil moved between gains and losses on Thursday as traders awaited the decision from OPEC on its production policy.

Ahead of the meeting in Vienna, Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said that OPEC+ was discussing a larger-than-expected 500,000 barrel a day production cut for the first quarter of 2020.

Oil briefly gave back its gains after Novak also said to Bloomberg that the deeper cuts would only be implemented if each member complies with its current production quota.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate settled unchanged at $58.43. Brent crude futures gained 44 cents to hit $63.45.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Iraq said that it was pushing for a 400,000 barrel a day production cut on top of the existing agreement for cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day.

Helima Croft, RBC head of global commodities strategy, said to CNBC ahead of the meeting that it was her understanding that a larger cut has the support of the OPEC core operating group, as well as its partner Russia.

24-country OPEC+ has cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day since the beginning of the year, and the current deal runs through March of 2020. Production cuts were first implemented in January of 2017 in an attempt to bolster prices as the U.S. kicked up its shale oil production, among other things.

As the meeting kicked off reports conflicted over who proposed the cuts. WTI briefly sold off after CNBC reported that one senior Saudi oil official denied pursuing a deeper round of production cuts. On Monday Reuters had previously reported that Saudi Arabia could be in favor of deeper cuts in order to give Aramco a boost as it hit the public market.

Also in focus will be individual country's production output. Again Capital's John Kilduff said that he believes Saudi Arabia is "open" to a cut, but that the most important thing to the nation is that countries comply with the quotas that are currently in place.

This is the first meeting with the new Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, who is the son of the King and half-brother to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

- CNBC's Patti Domm, Sam Meredith and Holly Ellyatt contributed reporting.