OPEC targets stocks, not prices

There is some interesting material on the OPEC website, following this week’s Summit, which clarifies their current strategy. The key points are:
OPEC is currently targeting inventories, not prices. Their policy is to keep OECD crude stocks within the 5 year average. OPEC says its previous production cutbacks ‘minimised the excessive overhangs that existed at the beginning of the year’. Saudi Oil Minister, Ali Naimi, added that ‘inventories (are now) at a healthy level within the 5 year average’.
• In keeping with this approach, OPEC made no comment on current prices. Instead, it focused on the issue of volatility, blaming this on ‘fear of future shortages’, ‘increasing speculation in the futures market’, ‘continuing geopolitical tensions in some oil-producing regions’ and ‘downstream bottlenecks’. This is quite different from September’s meeting, when they tried to talk prices down.
• Naimi reiterated OPEC’s commitment to ‘stability and reliability of supply in oil markets’. But he also raised a warning flag over the negative impact of any Western initiatives to move away from fossil fuels, commenting that OPEC’s investment in future production increases will be ‘assuming in good faith that the demand will be there’.
OPEC, in public at least, thesefore seems much more relaxed about the impact of today’s high prices on economic growth than it was in September. Then, the IEA had suggested that OPEC was targeting a minimum $70/bbl price, compared to today’s level near $90/bbl. Or maybe, with a mild winter forecast for the US as a result of the La Nina effect, they are just hedging their bets until they next meet in February.

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