Opec+ agrees to bigger output boost amid Russian isolation


Fuel trucks line up in front of storage tanks at the North Jeddah bulk plant, an Aramco oil facility, in Saudi Arabia, on Thursday. Agence France-Presse

Major oil producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed on Thursday to open the taps wider than expected amid soaring prices and hard on the heels of an EU ban on Russian oil imports.

Analysts had foreseen Opec+ producers sticking to their policy of modest output increases, as they have done since May 2021.

However, pressure has been rising for the 23-strong group to boost output further to try to stabilise prices, which have hit record highs since Russia invaded Ukraine, drawing heavy Western sanctions.

Opec+ has decided to add 648,000 barrels per day to the market in July, up from 432,000 in previous months, it announced after monthly video conference meetings that lasted about an hour.

“The meeting highlighted the importance of stable and balanced markets for both crude oil and refined products,” the group said in a statement.

Ahead of the meeting, speculation had swirled about a break in the agreement between the 13 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, chaired by Saudi Arabia, and their 10 partners, led by Russia.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Opec was considering suspending Russia from the output deal.

Opec+ drastically slashed output in 2020 as demand slumped when the world locked down under the coronavirus pandemic.

They have increased output modestly to the tune of around 400,000 barrels per day each month since last year, resisting pressure by top consumers, including the United States, to open the taps wider, until now.

But Jeffrey Halley, an analyst at Oanda, said the move would not alleviate the crude supply crunch from sanctioned Russian oil.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated concerns about oil supplies, sending prices to record highs this year.

As the economic screws have tightened around Russia, prices have further soared, putting pressure on the cartel to open the valves more widely and relieve the market.

European Union leaders agreed on Monday to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports as part of a sixth package of sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine war.

Britain has already announced plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022 and eventually stop importing its gas. The United States, too, banned Russian oil and gas days after Russia’s invasion began on February 24.

Ahead of the meeting, some analysts had predicted Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates could fill some of the gap as Russia is hit by Western oil sanctions.

Members of the G7 club of industrialised nations last week underlined Opec+’s “key role” in the face of the tightening of international markets.

Soaring oil prices have stimulated the Gulf region’s economies, with Saudi Arabia recording its highest growth rate in 10 years over the first quarter of 2022. Opec was set up in 1960 and joined by the 10 partners through a 2016 declaration. Its mission is to “ensure the stabilisation of oil markets”.

Oil rose on the news towards $117 a barrel as analysts said the real production boost will be insignificant as most Opec members except for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are already pumping at capacity. Earlier this year, oil came close to an all-time peak of $147 hit in 2008.

Opec+, an alliance of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producing nations, includes Russia, whose output has fallen by about 1 million bpd following Western sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

US diplomats have worked for weeks on organising Biden’s first visit to Riyadh.

Stocks edged lower on Wall Street Thursday and trading was choppy as investors remain cautious amid concerns about economic growth and rising interest rates.

The S&P 500 fell 0.5% as of 10:25 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 251 points, or 0.8%, to 32,559 and the Nasdaq fell 0.1%.

Health care stocks had some of the biggest losses. Drug developer Eli Lilly fell 3%. Companies that rely on direct consumer spending and some big industrial firms gained ground. Expedia Group rose 1.9% and Boeing rose 3.6%.

Technology stocks, whose lofty values tend to give the broader market a harder push higher or lower, swayed between broad gains and losses. Microsoft fell 2.7% after cutting its financial forecasts for the current quarter, citing unfavorable changes in exchange rates.

Small company stocks rose. The Russell 2000 gained 0.4%. Bond yields were relatively stable. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set interest rates on mortgages and other loans, remained at 2.93% from late Wednesday.

Crude oil prices rose slightly after the Opec oil group and allied producing countries including Russia said they will raise production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August.

Rising energy prices have been feeding inflation, which is already at its highest levels in four decades. US gasoline prices hit another record high Thursday, with the average price at the pump costing $4.71 per gallon, according to motoring club federation AAA.

Investors remain focused on the balance between inflation, rising interest rates and economic growth. The Federal Reserve is being closely watched as it tries to temper the impact from inflation by raising interest rates from historic lows during the pandemic.


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