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Oil Drops as OPEC Agreement on Output Cuts Remains Elusive

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12/06/2018 | 11:48am CET

By Georgi Kantchev

-- Oil prices fell Thursday as the Saudi oil minister said major producers have yet to reach an agreement on output cuts. Global stock markets slid, adding to the risk-off environment for markets.

-- Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, was trading down 3.2% at $59.58 a barrel on London's Intercontinental Exchange.

-- West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. oil price gauge, were down 3.2% at $51.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

HIGHLIGHTS

OPEC: Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih said Thursday there is no agreement yet on production cuts as ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries were meeting in Vienna. The Saudi minister said a cut of 1 million barrels a day would be sufficient to balance the market but all options are on the table.

OPEC, along with major producers like Russia, is under pressure to support prices which have fallen by more than 30% since a multiyear high in October.

"As ministers gather... the general belief is that some kind of cut will be agreed--anywhere between 1 and 1.5 million barrels a day," said Tamas Varga, oil analyst at PVM brokerage.

There are a number of stumbling blocks to reaching a decision, however.

Iran, OPEC's third biggest producer, said that it cannot participate in any OPEC cuts until the U.S. lifts its sanctions against the country. Iran's oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh, said Thursday that oil prices between $60 and $70 a barrel would be acceptable.

U.S. President Trump has voiced opposition to an agreement that would reduce crude production, saying on Twitter Wednesday, "Hopefully OPEC will be keeping oil flows as is, not restricted. The World does not want to see, or need, higher oil prices!"

If no deal is reached, "prices would fall in the foreseeable future," Mr. Varga said. Price "volatility is expected to continue in coming days."

Global markets: A fall in stock markets around the world is adding pressure to oil prices. The arrest of a high-profile Chinese executive in Canada hit stocks from Asia to Europe, and U.S. futures were also down. The news came as Beijing reiterated its intent to follow through on promises aimed at easing trade hostilities with the U.S.

The U.S. and China agreed over the weekend during the G-20 to a cease-fire in a continuing trade battle, with the U.S. postponing plans to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods and the two sides entering negotiations on a range of issues.

"We start today with global equity markets under renewed heavy pressure, which is not the best environment for oil if OPEC is not able to produce a convincing supply reduction agreement," said Olivier Jakob, managing director of consulting firm Petromatrix.

Continuing worries about a slowdown in global growth are also adding to pressures for crude, since a slowing world economy would translate into falling demand for oil.

INSIGHT

U.S. supplies: Beyond OPEC, traders are also eyeing key U.S. inventory data, which will be released later Thursday. An increase in U.S. supplies in recent months has been one of the main reasons behind the fall in prices. American oil production is already running at a historic high.

The market is expecting a decline in inventories reported by the Energy Information Administration. However, data earlier this week by industry group American Petroleum Institute indicated stocks rose.

"Today's U.S. oil inventory data are likely to underpin the message that OPEC/OPEC+ needs to agree on production cuts today and tomorrow," said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief analyst for commodities at SEB Markets.

AHEAD

-- The U.S. Energy Information Administration releases weekly data on U.S. oil inventories and production.

-- OPEC ministers meet Thursday, a larger meeting including non-OPEC countries is scheduled for Friday.

Write to Georgi Kantchev at georgi.kantchev@wsj.com

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