The world’s largest oil producing nations will meet in Qatar on April 17 to determine the future of crude oil prices, but divided goals could put the commodity’s turnaround in jeopardy. Many traders seem skeptical that the cartel will come to any kind of meaningful agreement, judging by their recently reported positions in the commodity, but these dynamics can quickly change with many OPEC members under tremendous pressure to boost prices.
Below, CommodityHQ.com takes a look at some of the recent developments in the crude oil market and what traders can expect from this month’s OPEC meeting.
Crude Oil Roller Coaster
Crude oil prices rallied from less than $30 per barrel in mid-February to more than $40 per barrel a month later after OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Venezuela joined Russia in agreeing to cap production at January’s levels on February 16. While OPEC production levels remain at near-record highs, the ongoing shutdown of high-cost shale production established a floor for oil prices and a pathway towards a balance in the market.
Unfortunately, crude oil demand hasn’t been sufficient to slow inventories from building up and prices slipped to about $35 per barrel by early April. Saudi Arabian officials spearheaded efforts to cut production and boost prices, but indicated that they would not act alone, highlighting the need for Iran’s cooperation. Of course, Iran is only starting to bring its production back to historic levels following sanctions and is hesitant to cut back so soon.
The big question is how long the holdout can last as many OPEC members struggle with low crude oil prices. For example, Venezuela is facing an economic crisis that can only be addressed with higher prices; Russia’s economy is clearly hurting from lower energy revenue; and Saudi Arabia is running its first budget deficit in years. The world’s largest oil-producing country has even unveiled plans to reduce its dependence on oil by selling a stake in Saudi Aramco.
What’s on the Table?
OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers will discuss a widespread production freeze during the upcoming meeting in Qatar. While the initial output freeze covered a lot of production capacity, a market-wide production freeze could further halt the troubling increase in inventories building up across the market. The goal is reportedly to freeze production at January or February levels or an average of the two, according to Reuters sources.
The only potential roadblock is Saudi Arabia’s refusal to move forward without Iran’s cooperation. Last week, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince said as much in an interview with Bloomberg, sending oil prices lower. But Kuwait’s OPEC Governor, Nawal Al-Fuzaia, indicated that Iran’s refusal to agree to a production freeze will not derail a deal to freeze production, while two other sources interviewed by Reuters confirmed these sentiments.
Markets Remain Skeptical
The market seems to be skeptical that OPEC and non-OPEC producers will come to a meaningful agreement during their upcoming meeting this month. Hedge funds trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange cut their long crude oil positions by more than 6% (3,799 contracts) and increased their short positions by 17% (13,105 contracts), according to the CFTC’s latest COT Report reflecting positions as of March 29.
However, it’s worth noting that these sentiments can shift very quickly based on any new developments. The February production freeze led to a ~50% rally in crude oil prices in a very short period of time, while OPEC’s dividedness has led to an equally impressive fall. Traders willing to assume the risk of volatile crude oil futures should keep an ear to the ground and be prepared to move quickly in and out of positions based on the news.
The Bottom Line
Crude oil prices rallied higher after an initial production freeze back in mid-February, but since then, the commodity has given up ground amid doubts of a cartel-wide agreement. At the core, traders are skeptical that Saudi Arabia will agree to freeze production without the support of Iran, a country that only recently restarted production following its sanctions. The market appears skeptical of a deal at the moment, but things can quickly change in the oil market.
The next meeting will occur on June 2 in Vienna, Austria.