Some of the world's largest oil producing countries ended talks late Sunday without an agreement on whether to cap production, amid tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which produce about half the world's oil, ended their meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in Doha, Qatar, around 9 p.m. local time, more than 10 hours after the expected end time. Also attending the meeting were oil-producing countries like Russia and Azerbaijan, which are not members of OPEC.
The countries disagreed even before the meeting began, with Saudi Arabia and Russia said to have agreed to cap production at current rates, Iran refusing to alter production until a pre-sanctions level is restored, and Saudi Arabia ruling out a production cut unless Iran agrees to one, too.
"If all major producers don't freeze production, we will not freeze production," Saudi Arabian deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg in a Thursday interview. The prince said that his country, the world's largest producer, would agree to a cap of about 10.3 million barrels per day only if other countries agreed to a freeze, warning that Saudi Arabia could immediately increase production to 11.5 million barrels per day, and hit 12.5 million in less than a year "if we wanted to."
In contrast, Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said April 6 that the country, which has been boosting exports since nuclear sanctions were lifted earlier this year, plans to boost output to its old level of 4 million barrels per day. On Saturday, Zanganeh said he would not attend the Doha talks and would not sign onto any deal.
Oil costs less than half of what it did in June 2014, crippling oil companies around the world. Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund warned that low oil prices would hurt the economies and political stability of oil-producing countries, and the prices were unlikely to stabilize this year.
Oil prices have rallied recently in the hopes that a production freeze was imminent. Brent crude, for example, is up 60% since January.
"Frankly, only an idiot would have believed the freeze would work because, going in, the Saudis insisted on no freeze unless Iran chose to freeze its production, while Iran said that, no matter what, it wouldn't freeze production because it has invited every major oil and oil service company into the country to dramatically BOOST production. As we have been telling subscribers to ActionAlertsPlus.com, the media bought into this 'freeze' story which was propagated chiefly by totally promotional oil ministers who wanted to talk up the price to make a little extra money," says Jim Cramer.
"It is true that talk of a freeze did bring the price up from $26 to $40, but we do not expect the price to fall back to those levels because -- while the Saudis have some spare capacity -- Russia is already pumping full out. What matters far more is that the demand side is coming on while the U.S. shale production is dropping quickly, as the vast majority of shale wells are not profitable below $40, and the oil companies are going to be stretched to maintain anywhere near their production. My advice and our advice to our subscribers, where we are radically underweighted in the group, is let it come down but don't be too cute, after a day or two's time the bargains will resurface, and I would look to add to our holdings of Occidental and Schlumberger if they dip below our basis," Cramer added.
Notably absent from the meetings, in addition to Iran, were two of the world's biggest oil producers, the United States and China. Both countries, despite their large production, export little, instead consuming almost all of it domestically.
According to oilfield services company Baker Hughes, the number of active oil rigs dropped again last week to 351, down from 1600 in early 2015.
"The bottom line is, if we get a freeze agreement this weekend, we would expect a positive reaction in the crude markets," Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brad Carpenter wrote in a Friday note. "However, from our perspective, any agreement would not change the near-term bearish fundamentals facing prices -- and these forces could ultimately regain control over crude markets."
Industry watchers said that a potential freeze would have little impact on U.S. oil stocks, which already have the impact of the meeting priced in.
"Bottom line: A production freeze is optically good, but the trend of improving U.S. inventories is more important and should be the market focus," analysts at energy-focused investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt wrote.