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Oil below $78: Uncertainty mars OPEC 20 analysts before meeting on Nov 27

Oil below $78: Uncertainty mars OPEC 20 analysts before meeting on Nov 27

NEW YORK: Ahead of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting on November 27 in Vienna, confusion has gripped professionals paid to predict the outcome.

The 20 analysts surveyed this week by a news website are perfectly divided, with half forecasting the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will cut supply on Nov. 27 in Vienna to stem a plunge in prices, while the other half expect no change. In the seven years since the surveys began, it’s the first time participants were evenly split. The only episode that created a similar debate was the OPEC meeting in late 2007, when crude was soaring to a record.

The split now reflects the difficult choice OPEC nations have to make. They could cut output to revive crude prices from a four-year low, at the risk of losing more market share to rival suppliers, including U.S. shale drillers. Or they could do nothing and allow prices to fall low enough to deter growth in U.S. output, a move that would also squeeze the finances of poorer members like Venezuela and Nigeria. With half the analysts in the market headed for a surprise, prices will be volatile after the meeting, according to BNP Paribas SA.

“It’s going to be a critical day,” said Doug King, chief investment officer of the $200 million Merchant Commodity Fund. “If there’s no action from the meeting, one of the most important OPEC meetings in the last 10 to 15 years, then the market will test them on the downside. If they cut 1.5 million barrels a day, you could get the Brent market back up into the $80 to $90 range.”

Oil collapsed into a bear market last month as U.S. drillers pumped at the fastest pace in more than three decades and global demand growth slowed. OPEC, responsible for about 40 percent of global oil output, needs to reduce production by 1 million to 1.5 million barrels a day to better balance supply and demand, Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas, said by e-mail.

“If OPEC does nothing, I think we’re seeing this market get really trashed, another $10 from where it is,” said Hakan Kocayusufpasaoglu, chief investment officer at Archbridge Capital AG, a Zug, Switzerland-based hedge fund.

The group’s decision is made more difficult by the size of the supply cut needed to offset growth in production outside OPEC, Kocayusufpasaoglu said. “They’re going to have to cut 2 million barrels a day over time,” he said. “That’s a lot of money to leave on the table.”

U.S. crude production will surge 800,000 barrels a day to a 43-year high of 9.4 million in 2015, adding to 1.1 million barrels a day of growth projected for this year, the Energy Information Administration said on Nov. 12.

There’s only a “remote possibility” OPEC will agree to a cut in Vienna, Seth Kleinman, Citigroup Inc.’s head of European energy research, said in a report on Nov. 10. Members including Algeria, Nigeria and Venezuela are unwilling to reduce their own production while Saudi Arabia, the group’s biggest producer, will refuse to do so alone, he said.

Saudi Arabia is committed to seeking a “stable” oil price and speculation of a battle between crude producers “has no basis in reality” Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said at a conference in Acapulco, Mexico, on Nov. 12.