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Msg  65810 of 65810  at  3/7/2022 7:49:00 AM  by


Thirteen Minutes That Showed OPEC+ís Irrelevance


The group of oil producers known as OPEC+ has become an irrelevance. Amid the the most unstable oil-supply situation in more than 30 years, it went missing in action.

The 23 countries, which together account for nearly 45% of the world’s oil production, met on Wednesday with crude prices surging to their highest levels since 2014. Their virtual gathering lasted just 13 minutes. From the subsequent crowing about the new record set for the brevity of the meeting, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the mission was to get together for as short a time as possible, rather than to balance the oil market.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the potential impact on oil markets wasn’t even deemed worthy of discussion. That is a shocking dereliction of duty for a group that considers itself the central bank of oil.

Sure, it would have been uncomfortable. The invasion was launched by one of the group’s co-chairs and keeping Russia in OPEC+ is important for the other members — the last time it pulled out, it triggered a production free-for-all that sent prices plummeting. So there’s an understandable reluctance to raise the topic.

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But that hasn’t stopped them before. Iraq, a founding OPEC member, twice invaded neighbors — Iran in 1980 and Kuwait a decade later. Both its victims were fellow founding members of the group. When Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1990, the world lost about 4 million barrels a day of supply overnight as a result of United Nations sanctions on the exports of both countries. That represented about 7% of global production at the time.

Filling the Gap

After Iraq invaded Kuwait other OPEC members were quick to step in

Source: Bloomberg survey

The rest of OPEC stepped in, using spare capacity to boost supply. Within a month, the group’s total output was almost back where it had been before the sanctions. That didn’t stop oil prices from continuing to rise, though. Much of the market’s nervousness was driven by fears that Saddam Hussein’s troops would push further south all the way to Saudi Arabia’s oil fields.

Crude in a Crisis

Crude prices doubled after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, we're nowhere near that

Source: ICE Futures Europe

Note: Change in the Brent crude price compared with the average for the 15 trading days prior to invasion

Thirty years on, the situation is very different. Far from acting as a stabilizing force, the bigger OPEC+ producer group has abstained.

Perhaps they fear some form of retribution from Russia if they say, or do, anything it doesn't like. Or perhaps they have no problem with President Vladimir Putin invading a sovereign neighbor. Maybe the truth is that there's actually not much they can do.

They don't have anything like the spare capacity they held in 1990. Back then, Saudi Arabia alone was able to boost output by about 3 million barrels a day over five months and still have more in reserve. It might struggle to do half that now.

Aside from the United Arab Emirates, the rest of the OPEC+ group would be hard pressed to add much at all. They are already struggling — and failing — to keep pace with their rising output targets. Production in January was almost 1 million barrels a day below the group’s goal, according to its own figures.

Falling Behind

The OPEC+ producers are falling further behind their output target

Source: OPEC

Their inability, or unwillingness, to act might buy oil producers a short-lived burst of sky-high prices, but it will speed the death knell for oil. Consuming nations will surely redouble efforts to decarbonize their economies and boost energy security by reducing dependence on foreign fuels - fossil, or otherwise.

Saudi Arabian oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has repeatedly taunted the International Energy Agency’s blueprint for decarbonization as a La-La Land fantasy. It’s starting to look like the oil producers are living in a fantasy land of their own.

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