Global oil markets resumed their relentless decline Tuesday after Saudi Arabia's influential energy minister suggested that OPEC could extend its agreed production cuts until the end of the year, defying calls from President Donald Trump to pump more crude and lower U.S. gas prices.
Khalid Al-Falih told Russia's RIA news agency that Saudi Arabia would meet the market's crude oil needs following the removal of waivers on the import of oil from Iran, which come into effect on May 2. However, he also hinted that his country's agreement with OPEC, as well as allies such as Russia, that are taking 1.2 million barrels from the market each day could be extended until the end of the year when the cartel meets in Vienna in June.
"I confirm our commitment to meet all these requests (to replace Iranian oil). But at the same time, we will do this remaining part of the OPEC+ deal, we will stick to it. We do not need to voluntarily exceed the limits set," he told the agency. "We will look at inventories - are they higher or lower than the normal level and we will adjust the production level accordingly."
Brent crude contracts for June delivery, the global benchmark for oil prices, were marked $1 higher from their Monday close in New York and changing hands at $73.08 per barrel following the al-Falih comments, while WTI contracts for the same month were seen 87 cents higher at $64.37 per barrel.
U.S. oil inventories rose by 5.5 million barrels over the week ending on April 19, according to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, and were pegged at 460.5 million barrels, essentially matching the seasonally-adjusted average of the past five years.
Saudi Arabia said last week it "fully supports" the U.S. State Department's decision to remove waivers that had allowed eight countries -- including China, India and Japan -- to continue buying Iranian crude despite U.S. sanctions on Tehran and called it a "necessary step to make the Iranian regime stop its destabilising policies and sponsoring terrorism around the world".
Al-Falih's Tuesday comments could put Saudi Arabia on a collision course with Trump, who boasted last week of "calling OPEC" to demand a reduction in both global oil and U.S. gasoline prices, insisting to reporters in Washington that they were "coming down."
With the U.S. summer driving season approaching, however, and domestic gas prices creeping to $2.88 per gallon, according to Gasbuddy.com, an extended surge in crude will add further upward pressure on consumers who are already seeing modest inflationary pressures and suddenly stagnant wage growth.