London: Major oil producers are expected to stick to their current output strategy or even slash production further when they meet on Sunday in the face of falling prices, a potential Russian oil price cap and an embargo on Russian crude shipments.
At their last ministerial session in October the 13-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries headed by Riyadh and its 10 allies led by Moscow, collectively known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce output by two million barrels per day (bpd) from November.
The OPEC+ reduction amounted to the biggest cut since the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020.
Amid fears of economic slowdown, Sunday's cartel meeting via videoconference convenes ahead of the EU enforcing an embargo on Russian crude shipments from Monday.
G7 countries, the EU and Australia had also appeared close to agreeing a $60 dollar per barrel price cap on Russian oil Thursday.
The alliance should vote for a "rollover of the previous decision" to cut two million bpd, an Iranian source told AFP Thursday, arguing that the market was "very uncertain" in light of imminent European sanctions.
"Odds are that the group will reassert its commitment to its latest output cuts," says PVM Energy analyst Stephen Brennock, adding he would not rule out that they "may even potentially announce fresh cuts" to bolster prices.
Since the October meeting, oil prices have been plummeting to their level of early 2022, far from the peaks above $130 a barrel in March after the start of Russia´s invasion in Ukraine.
Two global crude benchmarks were hovering around $85 a barrel on Thursday. Covid-related restrictions in China have raised fears about energy demand from the world´s largest importer of crude oil.
Beijing defused concerns, however, by signalling a possible easing of the strict zero-Covid policy, after nationwide protests against health restrictions broke out.
Soaring inflation in Europe and across the Atlantic have also fuelled fears of a recession. Beyond the economic gloom, the big unknown in the oil equation currently is Russian oil, as Western nations seek to decouple themselves from Moscow´s energy supplies as fast as possible.
The EU has decided to ban member states from buying Russian oil exported by sea from December 5, "putting at risk over two million barrels per day," according to estimates by ANZ analysts.
Investors are also scrutinising a European Commission-proposed $60 dollar per barrel price cap on Russian crude, which is designed to reinforce the effectiveness of the EU embargo.
The EU was already in agreement with Washington on the need to cap the price Western clients pay for Russia´s oil, to prevent Moscow profiting from price rises triggered by its own war on Ukraine.
Last week, President Vladimir Putin had warned that any attempt by the West to cap the price of Russian oil would have "grave consequences" for world markets.
Russia "has several options to circumvent such a cap," said UniCredit economist Edoardo Campanella, adding that "OPEC+ might feel compelled to adopt a more aggressive stance" by cutting or threatening to cut production even further.
"Russia might also retaliate by leveraging its influence within OPEC+ to push for more production cuts down the road, thus exacerbating the global energy crisis," Campanella said.Meanwhile oil futures ticked higher and Brent crude futures were up 65 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $87.53 per barrel by 1252 GMT. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 69 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $81.91 per barrel.
Both Brent and WTI had dipped earlier, but were on track for their first weekly gains, the biggest in two months at around 4.5 percent and 7 percent respectively, after three consecutive weeks of decline.
Sending bullish signals, China is set to announce an easing of its Covid-19 quarantine protocols within days, sources told Reuters, which would be a major shift in policy in the world's second biggest oil consumer, although analysts warn a significant economic reopening is likely to be months away.
Also underpinning oil prices, the US dollar, which typically trades inversely with oil, hit five-month lows.
"This week’s price rebound has taken Brent to within touching distance of the $90/bbl threshold and may temper appetite among (OPEC+'s) leadership for fresh price-supportive cuts," said PVM analyst Stephen Brennock.
"That being said, the prospect of subdued Chinese oil demand and more U.S. (strategic petroleum reserve) releases could prompt pre-emptive action by the alliance. Either way, the ingredients are there for price fireworks come Monday morning."