As this weekend's summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries approaches, the debate over whether OPEC will cut production or leave it steady is heating up. West Texas crude oil futures were recently adding 75 cents at $47.82 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Given OPEC's attempts to halt the seven-month slide on oil prices, it is not surprising that many oil traders are expecting another production cut. OPEC's decision will ultimately affect much more than the price of crude oil and its derivative products. An OPEC production cut would almost certainly be a boon for oil producers like Exxon Mobil ( XOM), ConocoPhillips ( COP), Chevron ( CVX) and BP ( BP). A decision to hold production would likely weigh heavily on crude prices, which would serve as good news for refiners like Valero ( VLO) and Tesoro ( TSO). The ministers from the various OPEC ministers like to chime in with their opinions to cut, hold or increase production in the days leading up to OPEC meetings. A few OPEC ministers are worth listening to because their opinions carry major weight within the OPEC organization. Others are worth listening to because their opinions are frequently downright hilarious. Venezuela's OPEC minister is of the latter (comedic) sort. He tends to advocate a cut in production ahead of every OPEC meeting. This has more to do with the abysmal state of decline in Venezuela's production, rather than a serious incentive to cut production for the sake of oil price stability. Ever since Hugo Chavez gave foreign oil companies the boot two years ago, his country's production rates have fallen by almost 50%.
If OPEC decides to keep production steady at the upcoming weekend, Venezuela would probably be unable to meet its production quota. Thus, the Venezuelan OPEC minister's request for a production cut should be courted by a very large grain of salt. Adversely, the OPEC minister from Saudi Arabia should always be taken very seriously. His country is responsible for 30% of OPEC's entire production quota. According to a research note by MF Global energy analyst Edward Meir, the Saudi minister has indicated that "it prefers the group do a better job in enforcing existing compliance." The take-away from the Saudi minister's statement: Keep production steady. My personal OPEC barometer is currently leaning toward a decision to keep production steady next weekend, rather than a decision to cut production further. However, today is only Tuesday, so we still have a bunch more public statements by other OPEC oil ministers to look forward to in the days ahead.