Oil producers want to reduce inventories: Falih

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih, Mohammed Barkindo, Secretary General of OPEC, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Venezuela's Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo stand for the Saudi Arabia anthem during the OPEC 14th Meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Jeddah on Sunday. — Reuters

JEDDAH — Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih said on Sunday there was consensus among OPEC and allied oil producers to drive down crude inventories "gently" but his country would remain responsive to the needs of what he called a fragile market.

Falih said a possible rollover in the second half of 2019 of output curbs agreed by OPEC and non-members was the main option discussed at a ministerial panel meeting during the day but "things can change by June".

"This second half, our preference is to maintain production management to keep inventories on their way declining gradually, softly but certainly declining towards normal levels," he told a news conference after the panel meeting.

OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1 for six months, a deal designed to stop inventories building up and weakening prices.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak earlier said an easing of cuts had been discussed and the supply situation would be clearer in a month, including from countries under sanctions.

Falih told reporters the market was "very fragile" with conflicting data due to concerns about supply disruptions while inventories rise, but that a "comfortable supply situation" should be seen in weeks and months to come.

He said high compliance with the agreed cuts was not sustainable and that over-conformity by some countries "can be reversed in June".

The minister said that if a decision were taken at that meeting to roll over cuts, then Saudi Arabia would stay within those limits. He said the Kingdom's oil output in May and June was planned to be 9.8 million bpd.

"It is critical that we don’t make hasty decisions — given the conflicting data, the complexity involved, and the evolving situation," Falih said, describing the outlook as "quite foggy".

"But I want to assure you that our group has always done the right thing in the interests of both consumers and producers; and we will continue to do so," he added.

Falih said Saudi oil output in July would remain within its OPEC production target.

United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei had told reporters that producers were capable of filling any market gap and that relaxing supply cuts was not "the right decision".

Mazrouei said the UAE did not want to see a rise in inventories that could lead to a price collapse. He said OPEC's job "is not done yet" and that there was no need to alter the agreement in the meantime.

Falih said oil demand in Asia had picked up, while demand in the United States for Saudi crude had dropped. He said nobody knew what Iran was producing or exporting, adding that he believed "a lot" of Iranian oil was unaccounted for.

Oil prices edged lower on Friday due to demand fears amid a standoff in Sino-US trade talks, but ended the week higher on concerns over disruptions in Middle East shipments due to US-Iran political tensions. — Reuters