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Mon 4 Feb 2008 01:54 PM

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Opec to consider March oil output hike

Kuwait minister says cartel wants to maintain oil stability in response to market need, not speculation.

Kuwait's acting oil minister said Opec would discuss increasing crude oil production levels when its ministers meet in March, the official Kuwait News Agency reported on Monday.

Mohammad Al-Olaim said the producer group would review oil markets closely ahead of the meeting, the agency added.

Opec agreed on Friday to keep oil supplies unchanged and began a debate about whether or not to curb output in March to defend prices against falling demand, should the US economy topple into recession.

While the latest indicators showed that while global economic growth was retreating, growth in some developing countries such as China and India was providing some balance, Al-Olaim said.

He said Opec was keen to maintain oil market stability and supply the world with enough oil but in response to market needs rather than speculation and geopolitical factors that the group cannot influence.

The US had raised concerns last month that world markets needed more oil. Oil prices steadied at below $89 a barrel on Monday, after worries over a potential US recession knocked prices 3% lower late last week.

But Iran wants the cartel to discuss cutting crude oil output at its March meeting, as stocks are expected to increase.

Iran and Venezuela said Opec may need to curb output in March to defend prices against a drop in demand, should the US slip into recession.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said in comments aired on Saturday that Opec's output policy decision in March will depend on how much crude stocks have been drawn down during the winter.

He added that such predictions of output decisions were premature, but inventories were at the low end of the five-year average range. (Reuters)

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