Oil price hit by OPEC numbers as Saudis stand firm on output

Oil took a fresh drubbing today as OPEC reduced its estimate for 2015 demand, Kuwait offered new discounts to Asian customers and the Saudi oil minister questioned the need for a production cut.

“Why should I cut production?” Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, said in response to reporters’ questions today in Lima, where he’s attending United Nations climate talks. “This is a market and I’m selling in a market. Why should I cut?”

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cut the forecast for how much crude it will need to produce next year by about 300,000 barrels a day to 28.9 million a day, the least since 2003. The group’s three largest members, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, are offering oil to Asian buyers at the deepest discounts in at least 6 years.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, plunged as much as 4.9 percent to $63.56 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange in London. That’s the lowest since July 2009. An Iranian official warned yesterday prices could drop to $40 a barrel should OPEC’s unity break down.

Brent crude slumped into a bear market this year amid speculation that Saudi Arabia and other nations in OPEC won’t cut output in response to a surplus. Prices plunged 17 percent since the group met on Nov. 27 and agreed to maintain a 30 million-barrel-a-day production target. OPEC said in a monthly report today that demand for its crude is weakening amid expanding supplies from U.S. shale producers.

‘Paradigm Shift’

“Naimi can’t change policy within two weeks of an OPEC meeting, they’ve got to stick it out for at least a quarter to make it obvious that non-OPEC can’t rely on high and stable prices,” Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Standard Chartered Plc, said by phone from London. “If it’s clear there’s damage done on non-OPEC, that’s the time they can start calling the dogs off.”

Any break in OPEC solidarity or price war will lead to an “enormous price-dive shock” that would push oil to $40 or $50, Mohammad Sadegh Memarian, an Iranian Oil Ministry official, said at a conference in Dubai yesterday.

“Saudi’s paradigm shift clearly shows their frustration with increasing supplies globally, OPEC and non-OPEC both,” Abhishek Deshpande, an analyst in London at Natixis SA, said by e-mail. “Saudi is testing the water here with unconventional non-OPEC producers.”

Oil Discounters

Kuwait Petroleum Corp., the state-run oil company, will sell its crude to Asian refiners at $3.95 a barrel below regional benchmarks next month, the company said today. That’s the biggest discount since December 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Iraq’s discount in Asia is the biggest in at least 11 years and Saudi Arabia widened the discount on Arab Light to the most in at least 14 years.

Crude will stay at about $65 a barrel for at least half a year until OPEC changes its production or economic growth revives, Nizar Al-Adsani, chief executive officer of state-run Kuwait Petroleum Corp. said Dec. 8.

Prices now are below what 10 out of OPEC’s 12 members need for their annual budgets to break even, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Kuwait and Qatar are the exceptions. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest member, has $742.4 billion of reserve assets, data from the country’s monetary agency show. OPEC’s next meeting is due to take place on June 5.

Below Output

Demand for OPEC’s crude will slump to 28.92 million barrels a day next year, according to the report today from its Vienna-based secretariat. That’s below 28.93 million in 2009, and the lowest since the 27.05 million a day level in 2003, the group’s data show.

The group’s 12 members last month pumped about 1.15 million barrels a day more than the 2015 level. OPEC produced 30.05 million a day in November, down 390,000 barrels a day from the previous month because of lower production in Libya, according to data from analysts and media organizations referred to in the report as “secondary sources.”