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OPEC+ may have played its final card with voluntary crude cuts: Russell



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The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

By Clyde Russell

LAUNCESTON, Australia, Dec 1 (Reuters) -The additional crude output cuts by OPEC+ should do two things, and neither of them are likely to please the group of oil exporters.

Firstly, the reduction of about 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) for early next year should put to rest the idea that global demand growth for crude is strong.

Secondly, it should beg the question as to if this is effectively OPEC+'s last roll of dice, and whether the group can actually cut any more if the price of oil continues to soften.

OPEC+, which consists of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia, met on Thursday to discuss supply policy, having delayed the meeting from Nov. 26 in an apparent attempt to reach agreement.

What the group did agree was total production curbs of 2.2 million bpd from eight members, a figure that includes an extension of the existing voluntary Saudi and Russian cuts of 1.3 million bpd.

The market reaction to the OPEC+ statement was subdued, with benchmark Brent crude futures giving up their earlier gains to end at $82.85 a barrel on Thursday, down slightly from the previous close of $83.10.

The price action most likely reflects the market view that the OPEC+ action is probably not enough to tighten the global supply-demand balance in the first quarter sufficiently to spark a rally.

It also may show a certain degree of scepticism of the voluntary nature of the additional production cuts, which raises questions as to whether they will actually be delivered.

The broader picture for the crude oil market is whether OPEC+ is doing enough to maintain prices above $80 a barrel, which is likely to be the minimum preferred price for the bulk of the group's members.

The extension of Saudi Arabia's voluntary 1 million bpd output cut, in place since July, and of Russia's 300,000 bpd reduction, and the additional 900,000 bpd for other members brings the total cuts pledged by OPEC+ to about 5 million bpd.

This level of production curtailment does very little to support the bullish case for global demand growth this year, which OPEC and the International Energy Agency (IEA) are still forecasting.

It's also important to work out what is the most important determinant of oil prices in the longer term, outside of short-term moves based around news headlines.

Is it demand forecasts, stated or targeted production levels, or the actual volumes of crude oil moving around the world.

The price of crude is set by the seaborne market, and therefore largely ignores the impact of crude produced and consumed domestically, or even oil transported over borders by pipelines.


SEABORNE SHIPMENTS

The volume of seaborne crude imports has grown so far in 2023, with data from commodity consultants Kpler showing that in the first 11 months of the year a total of 41.96 million bpd of seaborne crude was imported.

This is up 1.86 million bpd from the figure of 40.10 million bpd for 2022, according to Kpler.

While seaborne movements aren't the only component of demand growth, they are arguably the major determining factor in the setting of the global price.

The seaborne market is showing solid growth, but probably not enough to offset the increase in supply from non-OPEC+ producers, such as the United States, Brazil and Guyana.

It's also worth noting that much of the optimism in the demand forecasts by OPEC and the IEA is centred around Asia, in particular China, the world's biggest importer, and India, the third-largest.

China's crude imports were 11.36 million bpd in the first 10 months of the year, up 1.21 million bpd from the level for 2022 as a whole.

India saw arrivals of 4.62 million bpd in the first 10 months of the year, according to LSEG data, up 462,000 bpd on the 4.14 million bpd for 2022.

However, while the two Asian heavyweights show reasonable growth in imports, weakness in the rest of Asia means the world's top-importing region shows little growth overall.

Asia's crude imports in the first 10 months of the year were 26.93 million bpd, according to LSEG data, up 1.34 million bpd on the 25.59 million bpd recorded for the whole of 2022.

Overall, the picture that emerges is that demand growth is likely to disappoint forecasts, and non-OPEC+ supply is meeting most of the growth in seaborne demand.

It's therefore not that surprising that OPEC+ is trying to tighten supply further for the start of 2024.

But their evident struggles to reach a new deal, and the voluntary nature of that agreement, raise questions as to how much more the group can do.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.



Editing by Stephen Coates

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