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Oil price tests an all-time high

FT | September 6 2007
Ed Crooks and Javier Blas

The price of oil has risen close to a record level, putting more pressure on Opec to give a positive signal about production levels at its meeting in Vienna next week.

The price increase was triggered by claims that Israeli warplanes had penetrated Syrian airspace.

As US crude rose to less than $1.50 short of its record peak, Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of Total , the French oil group, told the Financial Times he expected the oil price to stay high, and suggested the cycle in the market had been broken.

Officials from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries meet in Vienna today to review the outlook for the supply and demand for oil, ahead of Tuesday's ministerial meeting.

The price increase puts pressure for Opec to increase its production levels, but in recent weeks the group's member countries have appeared divided about the need to pump more oil.

On Thursday, Mohammed al-Hamli, the United Arab Emirates' oil minister and Opec's president, said: “I think the market is very well balanced. There is no shortage whatsoever of oil supplies.”

However, Opec could signal next week that it is ready to supply more oil over the winter months.

Mr de Margerie said he expected that those high oil prices would persist.

Over the summer, as hedge funds unwound their positions in the oil market in response to the liquidity crisis, the price of oil slipped, and occasionally went below $70. But every time it did so, it rebounded, he said.

“Demand is still strong in Asia, [and there is] strong demand in the Middle East,” Mr de Margerie said. “So definitely the price will remain high, and we have to build our strategy on this.”

On Thursday, the government of Kazakhstan said it wanted more control of the giant Kashagan oil project, led by Eni of Italy.

On Thursday oil prices jumped on renewed geopolitical tension in the Middle East and a large fall in US crude oil and gasoline inventories.

West Texas Intermediate surged to $77.43 a barrel, just below early August's all-time high of $78.77. Later, it fell to $76.67. Brent crude rose above $75.

US crude oil inventories fell last week by 3.9m barrels to 329.7m barrels, down year-on-year.

Gasoline stocks fell by 2.3m barrels to 132.2m barrels, the lowest level in absolute terms in nearly two years.

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