VIENNA (AP) — The oil-producing countries of the OPEC cartel are considering slashing output to contain a plunge in prices that has been worsened by concerns about the virus outbreak's disruption to the world economy.
Oil ministers from the group's 14 countries were gathering in Vienna on Thursday as energy producers were taking a hit from a 25% slide in crude prices since January.
Since the new coronavirus outbreak began in China last month, air travel to the country - the world's second-largest economy - has all but stopped. Demand for transportation fuel inside the country dropped dramatically and manufacturing was idled as cities with millions of residents locked down to contain the spread of the virus. Major companies around the world have halted business travel as meetings were canceled out of precaution.
Oil prices stabilized ahead of this week's meeting on expectations that OPEC and non-OPEC members would agree to deeper production cuts. Some analysts predict the cartel will agree to slash production by 1 million barrels per day, on top of existing cuts.
In December, OPEC oil-producing countries and Russia, which participates in the talks, agreed to cut production by 1.7 million barrels per day, up from the 1.2 million barrel per day cut they had been observing for the previous three years.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh told the Shana news agency that “we have oversupply... and it's necessary that OPEC and non-OPEC do something for the balance of the market.”
He noted, however, that Russia - which is not part of OPEC and would join the discussions on Friday - “would resist until the last moment” any production cuts.
Countries have been abiding by the cuts unevenly, with some nations quietly producing more than they agreed to. And OPEC’s decisions to cut production have dwindling ability to boost oil prices, in part because the U.S. has been flooding the market with cheaply-produced crude.
By late Wednesday, the international benchmark for crude was trading at $51.25 a barrel, down from around $69 at the start of the year.