- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2008

VIENNA, Austria (AP) – OPEC said at an emergency meeting Friday that it will slash oil production by 1.5 million barrels to stem the “dramatic collapse” of oil prices, but crude prices plunged 5 percent anyway as financial markets spiraled downward across the globe.

Demand for crude has evaporated and the supply levers held by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries appear to have little influence in the current economic climate.

Iran and Venezuela pushed for a cut of 2 million barrels a day, but there were concerns among other OPEC members that a more severe production cut would exacerbate a deteriorating economic crisis and further destroy demand. OPEC officials, however, signaled they were prepared to slice deeper quickly if crude continues its freefall.

The world’s biggest crude consumer immediately blasted OPEC.

“It has always been our view that the value of commodities, including oil, should be determined in open, competitive markets, and not by these kinds of anti-market production decisions,” White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Friday. “The high oil prices from the past year contributed to the slowdown in demand and the subsequent downturn in the economy, and we would ask that everyone keep that in mind going forward.”

OPEC is already producing 300,000 barrels a day above its own quota of about 29 million barrels.

If that overproduction is stopped, and all members comply with the 1.5-million cut, OPEC would produce about 1.8 million fewer barrels of oil a day.

OPEC officials, however, left no doubt that they were ready to slice production again quickly if Friday’s decision does not end the price freefall.

The emergency meeting was initially scheduled for Nov. 18, but that was abruptly rescheduled for Friday in response to prices that have entered a tailspin since their historic high of nearly $150 in July.

Crude has tumbled 56 percent since then. A barrel of oil costs $41 less than it did just 30 days ago.

OPEC President Chakib Khelil said OPEC was ready to convene another emergency session before its next planned gathering in December in Algeria “if there are further decisions that have to be made.

Analyst John Hall of London-based John Hall Associates said the OPEC decision will not have a dramatic effect, adding he assumed any upward trend would stop at between $80 and $90.

But there was no such trend Friday as markets plunged global and fear of an extended recession spread.

Wall Street joined world stock markets in a sharp sell-off Friday, with the Dow Jones industrials dropping more than 200 points in early trading and all the major indexes falling more than 4 percent.

Oil futures slid $3.33 to $64.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices at one point tumbled to below $63, prices not seen since June 2007.

“It’s clear that the ministers are attempting to underpin at $60 a barrel,” said James R. Crawford an analyst with Inter Emirates. “But where the market will settle remains open.”

OPEC statement Friday reflected alarm over the erosion of revenues for oil producing nations, as did the unusually short deliberations leading to its decision.

“Oil prices have witnessed a dramatic collapse — unprecedented in speed and magnitude,” said the 13-nation organization. “This slowdown in demand is serving to exacerbate the situation in a market which has been oversupplied with crude for some time.

It also warned of hard times ahead for suppliers, saying “the fall in demand will deepen” in the coming months.

OPEC indirectly asked Russia and other major oil exporters outside the organization not to undercut efforts to prop up prices.

“OPEC cannot be expected to bear alone the burden of restoring equilibrium,” said the statement.

OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah El-Badri said before a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday that he would not ask Russia for oil production cuts as global prices fall. Some analysts have said Russia was unlikely to agree to production cuts, given that it already is battling with falling output as West Siberian oil fields mature.

But others spoke of behind the scenes negotiations between Moscow and OPEC on the issue.

The fall in crude prices despite OPEC’s move suggested the organization’s power to raise prices by cutting supply may be fading amid a global economic crisis that has crimped demand for oil. In the past, sizable cuts in OPEC production have led to significant jumps in prices.

The latest weekly report from the U.S. Department of Energy shows that demand has fallen in 38 of the past 42 weeks. U.S. demand is down nearly 10 percent during the past four weeks year on year. The U.S. still consumes one out of every four barrels of oil produced.

El-Badri on Friday took pains to emphasize that OPEC’s move was predicated by a need not to raise prices but to put a floor underneath them. Iran, Venezuela and other OPEC members have suggested that for them, selling oil under $80 was a loss-maker, and Iraq on Thursday said it would have to rethink next year’s national budget if prices remain under that level.

That line of thinking did not rest well with U.S. lawmakers.

“OPEC has a talent for cutting its nose to spite its face,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “At a time when oil prices are declining because the world economy has stalled, OPEC’s actions will only make things worse.”

Associated Press writers Veronika Oleksyn and Angela Woebking contributed to this report.

On the Net:www.opec.org

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