World Bulletin / News Desk
Crude oil prices could face a sharp and sudden decline if OPEC fails to reach an agreement Wednesday to curb its production, experts told Anadolu Agency.
The cartel will convene in Vienna for its semi-annual meeting to find a consensus among its members. If a deal is reached, it will be OPEC's first production cut in eight years.
If, however, an agreement is not reached, or members do not comply with the deal, prices could fall significantly from its current level of nearly $50 per barrel.
OPEC is "well aware that a failure to come up with any agreement could see prices plunge back below $40 per barrel", Thomas Pugh, a commodities economist at London-based Capital Economics, said in a note.
Global investment banking giant Goldman Sachs warned Monday in a report, "the absence of a deal would likely exacerbate the initial sell-off" on the global oil market.
The investment bank also stressed that if a deal is not successful, it expects "rising [global crude] inventories through 1H17 would warrant prices averaging $45 per barrel through next summer."
Pugh said failure to agree on a deal "would make it difficult for OPEC to convince the market that it is still relevant and able to function effectively".
Since June 2014, when prices first began to fall from $115 a barrel due to a glut of global supply and low worldwide demand, the cartel held five semi-annual ordinary meetings in Vienna and failed to make a move to limit its production.
"Some members like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela have serious economic problems and they do not want to sacrifice," Michael Lynch, president of economic consultancy Strategic Energy & Economic Research (SEER) in Massachusetts told Anadolu Agency.
These countries asked in previous months to be exempt from any OPEC deal, due to their economic and internal security concerns. This, however, leaves the heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, to carry the cartel.
"Most of the members feel the Saudis should bear the bulk of the burden. But, the Saudis are reluctant, because in the early 1980s they were carrying almost all the burden while other members benefitted it," he added.
The world's biggest crude exporter and the most influential member of the cartel, Saudi Arabia, agreed to reduce its production in 1986, while OPEC and non-OPEC countries increased their outputs.
In a turn of events, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced Monday that production cuts may not even be necessary, since he believes the market will rebalance next year. This statement led many to believe the likelihood of reaching a successful deal has decreased.
Goldman Sachs said in its report that it sees a 30 percent probability that an agreement will be reached.
Saudi Arabia also requested the world's biggest crude producer, Russia, a non-OPEC country, to cooperate with the cartel in limiting its output.
Moscow has not agreed to cut its production, but said last month that it can freeze its output, which is at a post-Soviet era record-high level, and would not help the global market to rid oversupply.
Russia's compliance with any successful deal is also an issue.
"Historically, they [Russians] made promises to cut, but then not cap them, because their data is sort of opaque -- people don't have a sense of whether they cut until after a couple of months," Lynch said.
"The have in the past said they would cut, but then the market recovered because OPEC members cut. By the time people realized they didn't cut, it didn't really mattered," he added.
Lynch said he believers "there is a good chance" OPEC members will reach some kind of an agreement on Wednesday, but added "I think there will be a big problem with compliance".
If a deal is reached on Wednesday among OPEC members, and includes Russia, it will not be binding, Pugh noted.
History, unfortunately, shows neither the cartel nor Russia complied to some previous agreements regarding their individual oil production volumes.
"Russia does not have a great track record here. It reneged on a deal to cut oil production back in 2001, whilst OPEC has almost always produced more than its target," Pugh noted.
He stressed that any deal "which isn’t followed through on could be the worst possible outcome for the group."
"If OPEC then failed to implement its output cuts, we could see significant excess supplies in the market in 2017 which would keep prices low for longer than they otherwise would have been," he explained.
Pugh said he does not expect "much more than a face-saving deal," on Wednesday. But, if an agreement is reached and successfully implemented, prices could reach $60 a barrel next year.
This would benefit the American shale oil producers the most. Investors believe they can easily fill the void in the market with additional supply after OPEC cuts.
Pugh said rise in prices would lead to "a substantial increase in U.S. output".
If, on the other hand, OPEC does not reach a deal, or successfully comply, and prices drop, this is expected to impact U.S. oil producers negatively.
"When oil prices drop, American oil producers will have less money to spend, they will be drilling less," Lynch said. "Most of them are not borrowing money now to drill. They will show resilience, but their production can fall slightly if prices go to $40 a barrel or lower."