OPEC’s plan to boost oil prices by cutting production has fizzled, yet it has little choice but to stick with it.
Crude has surrendered all of its gains since the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries first agreed production cuts in November. While the group has implemented the curbs, a rebound in U.S. shale output and stubbornly-high stockpiles show the world’s three-year crude glut isn’t shifting. Even signals from Saudi Arabia and Russia that they’ll prolong the supply reductions haven’t staunched the rout.
Yet OPEC has limited room for maneuver when it meets on May 25 in Vienna to discuss the deal, and is almost certain to persevere because the alternatives look even worse. If it were to deepen the cutbacks, even more shale supplies might come along to fill the gap, according to UBS Group AG. Abandoning the policy and restoring output would inflict the economic pain of crude below $40, Citigroup Inc. predicts.
“The risk of a higher cut is that it could trigger too strong an increase in prices and support U.S. shale,” said Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS in Zurich. “If they change strategy, Saudi Arabia would lose face. You can’t say you want lower inventories, and after a few months give up.”