Crude oil futures have been volatile since the OPEC production cut agreement of last month, but prices have been up about 14% since the deal was done in Vienna on November 30.
Oil futures recorded a small loss last week yet hung around $50 per barrel, then climbed on Monday as non-OPEC countries--Russia, Azerbaijan, Oman and Sudan among them--pledged to cut production. Russia produces more crude than another nation.
Crude oil futures for January 2017 closed at $52.45 on the CME Globex Monday, up 95 cents. February crude futures closed up nearly a buck (98 cents) at $52.44. On Tuesday January futures hit a high of 53.41 and February futures $54.50.
Prices languished in the low- to mid-$40 a barrel range in the run-up to the November 30 meeting. Now OPEC, which accounts for a third of global crude oil production, has to make good on those production cuts.
During a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. on December 2, former Saudi Arabia oil minister Ali Al-Naimi acknowledge that a production cut was OPEC's only real weapon, but that enforcing it was problematic at best.
"Unfortunately, we tend to cheat," Al-Naimi acknowledged. "There's still more supply than demand. If (OPEC) make(s) a concerted effort to reduce supply there will be a balance. But that remains to be seen." Ironically, Al-Naimi was behind the plan for Saudi Arabia, by far OPEC's biggest producer, to increase production in November 2014 when concerns about a glut had already surfaced.
Since 1982, OPEC has introduced 17 production cuts and its members have, for the most part, blown them off and done so in an ad hoc fashion. According to a report by Morgan Stanley, OPEC went over its quotas between 2000 and 2008 by an average of 883,000 barrels per day. West Texas Intermediate hit $145.29 a barrel on the NYMEX on July 3, 2008--a price that provided more than enough incentive to ignore any quotas.
Ten weeks later the collapse of Lehman Brothers set off a global economic crisis and in its aftermath, OPEC agreed to cut production by 4.2 million barrels a day as prices plunged.
If past is prologue, OPEC will likely continue to cheat--unless the current pricing environment has removed at least some of the incentive to do so. That likely means that a floor of at least $50 per barrel must be maintained for the long haul.