OPEC’s oil production cut agreement could start falling apart soon, as Saudi Arabia and Iran once again face off. This time, however, the spat is over determining what the best price level is for the commodity. That’s what Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told the Wall Street Journal in an interview.
The split, apparently, stems from Saudi Arabia’s insistence that crude oil should be kept closer to US$70 a barrel - a level Brent touched briefly early this year - and Iran’s equal insistence that US$60 is a better place for oil to trade at.
This disagreement could see the cartel start unwinding the cuts as early as June, when it will meet with its partners to discuss progress and next steps. Zanganeh’s explanation of the Iranian stance is anything but a surprise: “If the price jumps [to] around $70 ... it will motivate more production in shale oil in the United States,” he told the WSJ.
Zanganeh is not wrong, but the problem is that U.S. drillers have demonstrated that they could pump more at US$60 a barrel, too, so bringing prices closer to that level is not a guaranteed way to stymie U.S. oil production growth. Production has been growing steadily, last week hitting 10.37 million bpd.
The oil production in the United States is not the only problem. The bigger problem is soaring U.S. exports that are eating away the market share of OPEC members. This could be the last drop to swing OPEC in Iran’s favor.
Bloomberg quoted an ING analyst yesterday as saying that crude could fall below US$60 a barrel because of rising U.S. exports to Asia, a key market for every producer. The OPEC deal is under threat, ING commodities strategist said, because U.S. crude supplies are displacing OPEC’s. “The longer the deal goes on, it’s going to start falling apart. They continue to give market share away to the U.S.”