Citing robust demand and fading pandemic worries, an alliance of major oil producing countries agreed on Wednesday to extend production increases into March.
Policymakers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), headed by Saudi Arabia, and a Russia-led group of allies known as OPEC-plus, said they aim to boost output by 400,000 b/d next month.
The effort would continue a targeted rate of monthly supply increases the cartel began in August to gradually unwind production cuts of nearly 10 million b/d made in April 2020 amid the initial demand destruction imposed by the coronavirus.
Analysts noted OPEC’s and others’ forecasts for robust demand through 2022 as the Omicron variant of the virus, while highly contagious, appears less lethal than earlier strains. Most major economies, including the United States, have resisted lockdowns amid Omicron’s spread and instead focused on vaccine campaigns, allowing travel to further rebound and demand for fuel to climb.
Prices reflect the demand backdrop. Brent crude, the international benchmark, traded above $90/bbl at its height on Wednesday, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate oil approached $89 early in the day – both near multi-year highs.
Rystad Energy analyst Bjørnar Tonhaugen said American producers and others outside of OPEC-plus also are likely to raise output this year to meet demand and capitalize on favorable prices.
“Prices are far-far above breakeven…from anywhere from the U.S. shale patch to offshore, not to mention onshore fields in the Middle East,” Tonhaugen said. “From an operator’s economical perspective, investments and supply should see a positive jolt some months down the line this year and into the next.”
All of that noted, U.S. producers are under relentless pressure from Wall Street to be cautious about substantial oil output increases. Investors want to see more investment in renewable fuels.
Additionally, Tonhaugen said, several members of OPEC-plus are struggling to keep pace with the cartel’s targeted increases, including war-torn Libya and both Nigeria and Angola, which have struggled with deteriorating infrastructure.
There also “is anxiety about damage to production capacity from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait and Russia, from too low investments during the pandemic and before,” Tonhaugen said. “Looking back, we find that OPEC-plus has failed to live up to its own pledge of increasing production according to plan,” trailing its target last month and over several months in 2021.
OPEC researchers in January predicted global demand would rise by 4.15 million b/d and that consumption would exceed 100 million b/d in the third quarter, returning demand to pre-pandemic levels.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts said in January that global demand could reach a new high this year, and oil prices could top $100 at the 2022 peak as a result. Bank of America and Morgan Stanley analysts also said last month they expect rising demand, and both firms said Brent crude could reach triple digits in 2022.
OPEC-plus is scheduled to meet next on March 2.
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