Tuesday, February 10, 2004

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — OPEC decided yesterday to cut its excess production of crude immediately and lower output quotas by 1 million barrels a day effective April 1. The surprise move means consumers will continue to face high prices for gasoline and other refined products, analysts said.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries expects the combined cuts would reduce actual production by 10 percent, or 2.5 million barrels a day.

OPEC agreed to the two-stage reduction in output to try to keep oil prices stable when warmer weather erodes demand in major importing countries.

The oil group has often urged its members to comply better with their agreed quotas, but its decision to make an additional cut in its official target of 24.5 million barrels was unexpected.

“As time goes on in the second quarter, we will see a drop in demand that will affect prices. If we don’t do anything, there will be oversupply in the second quarter of about 3 million barrels (a day),” OPEC President Purnomo Yusgiantoro said during a news conference at a government-run convention center in Algiers.

Ministers said they believed their action would send a strong signal about OPEC’s willingness to be active in managing crude supplies.

“Everybody will know that the organization is serious, and we would like to have a stable market,” said Libya’s representative, Abdulhafid Mahmoud Zlitni, after a closed-door meeting at which the delegates ratified their output decision.

The planned April cut in OPEC’s formal output is unconditional, added Obaid Al-Nasseri, oil minister for the United Arab Emirates.

North Sea Brent crude for March delivery rose 93 cents to settle at $30.04 in London, while March contracts for light sweet U.S. crude were up $1.04 to settle at $33.87 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

OPEC’s emphasis on the need to curb production was “a sign of some discipline” that should, by itself, help keep crude prices firm in the short term, said John Waterlow, an analyst with Wood Mackenzie Consultants in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The April cut in production would bite deeper into consumers’ wallets, said Jan Stuart of FIMAT USA, a New York brokerage.

“What this means is that consumers are going to carry on paying loads of money for their gasoline for quite some time,” he said.

OPEC is still smarting after its 1997 agreement to boost production just before an Asian financial crisis that sent oil prices plummeting to $10 a barrel.

OPEC has a long history of pumping oil in excess of its quotas, but Kuwait’s oil minister Ahmad Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah said its members would be much more serious this time.

“All the signals and all the studies show that the second quarter will be a very bad quarter. … Everybody, for his benefit, has to be strict with these resolutions,” the Kuwaiti minister told reporters.

OPEC pumps about a third of the world’s oil, and its members are currently producing about 1.5 million barrels a day above their output ceiling.

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