OPEC: First signals of a new strategy

OPEC: First signals of a new strategy

Elisa Maria Giannetto
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With prices in freefall, US producers are moving to safeguard their investments, while OPEC seeks a new strategy

It will take crude prices below $36 a barrel before US producers will feel incentivized to slow their extraction activities. With oil at a three-month low and reserves continuing to grow, US oil companies have moved to insulate themselves from the probable losses by locking in future returns with contracts that guarantee set prices for the next few years. After surviving one of the worst market collapses in history, that of the two-year period 2014-2016, "We’re in a boom again in Texas, despite what’s happening with prices lately," said Michael Webber, deputy director of the University of Texas’ Energy Institute in Austin. "The cowboy spirit is back." With the number of active drilling rigs in the USA nearly doubling since May, to reach 617, the boom is showing no signs of slowing down. This is putting pressure on OPEC, which has been forced in response to alter the focus of its strategy. Saudi Arabia has indicated that it intends to switch from production cuts to export cuts. An OPEC report issued on Tuesday shows a brisk reversal to Riyadh’s production cuts, with production in February rising by 263,300 bpd. However, the numbers reported by Riyadh are contradicted by OPEC’s own estimates, compiled from external sources such as news agencies, which show Saudi output falling by 68,100 barrels a day. This discrepancy has only further rattled the market, causing "schizophrenic" price performance. Only adding to the confusion is a statement put out yesterday by Saudi Arabia’s oil ministry: "The difference between what the market observes as production, and the actual supply levels in any given month, is due to operational factors that are influenced by storage adjustments and other month to month variables." But according to experts, the Saudis’ self-reported numbers may be a sort of warning to its more delinquent allies in the output cut deal like Russia and Iraq, which have been slow to fall in line with the deal. As Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih remarked, "Saudi Arabia will not allow itself to be used by others." But the priority for analysts at this juncture is to revitalize an oil market showing increasing signs of exhaustion.