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OPEC Intrigue Lifts Oil Prices

The members of the OPEC rarely disappoint when it comes to their big meetings.

This month, much is on the table.

Will they cut more oil production or not at all? Can Saudi Arabia find happiness in a joint collusion agreement with Russia or will Iran and Iraq try to muddy up the works?

Already there is lots of drama as the global petroleum markets get set for OPEC’s Thursday meeting in Vienna followed by a meeting OPEC co-conspirators Russia and other countries on Friday, otherwise know as the OPEC+ group.

The group has been under a lot of pressure as their previous 1.2 million barrel a day production cuts have failed to inspire the oil market to command the prices they were hoping for. What makes that particularly frustrating for the OPEC+ group is that not only have they complied with cuts, but have actually produced even deeper cuts than those agreed upon.

Most of that load was carried by Saudi Arabia, which has the most at stake because of its desire to launch the IPO of Saudi Aramco. That has led to the OPEC compliance cuts to be closer to 1.8 million barrels a day.

Saudi Arabia wants to now legitimize that overproduction of 300,000 to 400,000 barrels of production cuts which could see oil soaring. Iraq is saying that at the very least an extension of production cuts is in the bag. Yet could the whole deal fall apart if the Russians do not get on board?

At every OPEC meeting, the Russians have played hard to get. Russian oil minister Alexander Novak likes to play bad cop to Russian President Vladimir’s Putin’s good cop. Russian oil companies complain with Novak with their desire to produce more oil. Novak talks tough and raises the fear that a deal with OPEC will not be reached. Then Putin rides in on his white horse to get the deal done and at the last minute, we get an agreement.

Yet could this time be different. The big issue is Russian condensate. Condensate is very light almost gaseous oil. Russia says because they do not export it, it should not be counted as production. Yet other OPEC members have to count it, mainly because they export it. Shale oil is condensate in many cases.

This is a sticking point but should not be a deal-breaker for an extension of cuts but it could be the reason we don’t get a bigger cut.

Besides, some in the group are concerned about losing market share. U.S. production is already at a record high but the cartel could face competition from rising production in Norway and Brazil in the new year. Others in OPEC, such as Saudi Arabia, are not as concerned. They look at the rising amount of company bankruptcies in the shale patch and believe that U.S. shale is peaking. They also look to reports that after a surge global offshore production will also peak in 2020.

You also have your side stories like Iran’s attack on the Saudi Arabian oil fields. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned after the country saw deadly violence against people protesting bad economic conditions in the country. Iran’s also been rocked by protests over gas prices and killed protesters as the country’s economy is collapsing under the weight of U.S. sanctions.

All the more reason OPEC will want a bigger cut. Will Russia play along? Stay tuned as the spigot turns.

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