David Prosser: Opec members playing the same old games


Outlook: Opec wasn't giving much away yesterday as its staff prepared for the cartel's latest summit, which takes places in Vienna tomorrow. On balance, however, another cut in production is more than likely. Opec's own analysis suggests global demand for oil this year may be even lower than previously thought. It also points out that developed countries have almost two months' worth of oil stockpiled.

With the oil price now hovering around the $47-a-barrel mark – at least $13 below the level which Opec regards as sustainable – many of the cartel's members think the case for another attempt to choke off supply is clear.

However, the problem, as ever, with Opec is that there's no knowing whether individual countries within the group will comply with the production levels agreed. Indeed, the goings on at Opec make for a cracking spectator sport. Every so often, leading oil producers meet up and agree to change production targets. Without fail, each producer then goes away thinking something along the lines of "Brilliant, everyone else will stick to the deal and we can cash in". And then, surprise, surprise, no one sticks to the deal.

So it is that the 4.2 million barrel-a-day production cuts already announced by Opec have not yet had their hoped-for impact on the oil price. The cartel estimates its members have so far achieved around 80 per cent compliance. Or, to put it another way, its members have sneakily carried on producing one in five of the barrels of oil they promised to stop producing.

In fact, Opec's compliance estimates may be over-optimistic. The International Energy Agency says the actual production cuts made by Opec members vary from country to country, but in certain places, it reckons compliance could be as low as 33 per cent. The debate in Vienna then, will be whether new production cuts are necessary, or whether just getting everyone to keep their side of the previous bargain might achieve the trick they want.

What a bunch of people to have to do business with. Forget the environmental debate about fossil fuels: this lot don't even trust each other, let alone the rest of us – another good reason for the world to wean itself off its addiction to oil as soon as is humanly possible.

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