Last Updated: August 6, 2017
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As global oil stocks stubbornly hold on to the brims and crude struggles to stay in the $50-60/barrel band, OPEC and its non-OPEC collaborators are facing declining revenues and increasingly wavering quota discipline. Meanwhile, the US, Libya and Nigeria collectively pumped 1.6 million b/d more crude in July versus last October. Deepening the OPEC/non-OPEC cuts appears to be the need of the hour but that is not on the table unless there is full compliance and Libya and Nigeria are brought into the fold of the production restraint agreement. The emphasis has turned to ensuring full discipline, something that will need a lot of effort for relatively small immediate gains. OPEC wants to achieve compliance through monitoring members’ exports, which is neither easy nor fail-safe.

There is a new mantra in the OPEC/non-OPEC camp of collaborators wondering how to make their production cuts count and prop up crude closer to 2017 highs: target exports, not output.

While monitoring exports seems logical enough and might offer a distraction to producers struggling to reap the promised reward of higher crude prices in return for cutting back their sales volumes, the solution is not that simple.

First, the basics. The OPEC and non-OPEC supply restraint agreements of last November and December set individual country ceilings for crude production, in keeping with OPEC’s policy through the years. Accordingly, the OPEC/non-OPEC joint ministerial monitoring committee looks at production levels not exports of the participating countries.

While a country’s production and export levels would broadly correlate, they can diverge as a result of variations in how much of the total output is consumed at home as well as barrels moving in and out of its storage.

In countries such as Saudi Arabia, where direct-burning of crude for power generation typically spikes to meet increased electricity demand in summer months, volumes available for export can drop substantially. The Kingdom plans to export 300,000 b/d less in August compared with May, its energy minister Khalid al-Falih said on the sidelines of the OPEC/non-OPEC monitoring committee meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 24. However, such big seasonal swings are rare among other producers.

To be very precise, or pedantic even, OPEC’s objective of bringing OECD commercial oil stocks down to within five-year average levels would be achieved if it curbs exports, not just production. But why stocks are not draining at the rate originally expected is not a question of discrepancy between exports and production so much as a suspected divergence between the production numbers being reported by some of the participating countries and the barrels actually being exported by them. Tracking exports could be a way to catch them out, if that is indeed the case.

opec energy oil price investment oil & gas shale united states brent wti saudi
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