Russia aiming to share Saudi output hike as OPEC+ meets

By Dina Khrennikova on 5/15/2019
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Photo: Horizon Arctic vessel.

MOSCOW (Bloomberg) -- Russia will join the OPEC+ talks this weekend having barely fulfilled its pledged production cuts, but keen to secure a share of any potential output increase.

In recent months, Russia has indicated it would welcome a return to production growth, said analysts from Fitch Ratings and IHS Markit. That’s back on the agenda after pledges by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies to fill the supply gap created by tighter U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Moscow “sees a place for its extra barrels in the market,” said Maksim Nechaev, Russia director for IHS Markit. The country has the means to increase production by around 300,000 bpd within a short period of time “and this is probably the message that Russia will bring.”

Russia’s Energy Ministry did not immediately reply to a Bloomberg request seeking comment on the nation’s position at the weekend talks in Jeddah.

While it may appear that the interests of Saudi Arabia and Russia―the two most powerful members of the OPEC+ coalition -- are coming into alignment, it’s by no means certain that the meeting in Jeddah on Sunday will lay the groundwork for a formal production increase.

For months, the kingdom has cut production deeper and faster than required under the OPEC+ deal. That means it could pump an additional 500,000 boed―to almost half Iran’s exports―while still abiding by its current quota. Russia doesn’t have any such leeway within the confines of the deal, having only just achieved its output target in the first few days of May.

Maintaining Control

While there are differences to overcome, there are also signs that the era of cooperation between OPEC and its allies, which sparked a recovery in oil prices from a years-long slump, will continue.

President Vladimir Putin has shown recently that he’s reluctant to walk away from the agreement, which ensures his political partnership with Saudi Arabia and his influence on oil prices. The kingdom’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih has also indicated a preference for keeping the alliance together.

Given the uncertainties around exports from Iran, plus the instability of Venezuelan supplies amid a political and economic crisis, Russia and Saudi Arabia may support a cautious approach, said Andrey Polischuk, an energy analyst from Raiffeisenbank in Moscow. That could entail a higher production cap or a pump-all-you-can approach for a very short period of time, he said.

“In any case, that’s not going to be an uncontrolled ramp-up,” Polischuk said.

Supply Gaps

Russian producers’ drive to cut output as part of the OPEC+ deal has waned this year. The companies failed to match the Energy Ministry’s pledge of fully implementing the agreed cuts in April. They did hit the target in the first few days of May, as the country grappled with an oil-contamination crisis that shut down a major pipeline to Europe.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia cut production faster and deeper than required under the OPEC+ deal, taking its crude output to a four-year low of 9.79 MMbpd in April.

Since then, U.S. President Donald Trump ended the sanctions waivers that allowed Iran to keep exporting about 1.1 MMbpd of crude in March, according to data from the International Energy Agency. Saudi Arabia has said it will meet all requests for additional oil from countries that have had to stop buying Iranian crude.

Overlapping Interests

“Russia’s interest in raising oil output now coincides with the interest of Saudi Arabia,” said Dmitry Marinchenko, a senior director at Fitch Ratings.

Statements from major Russian oil producers that current oil prices suit them may indicate that the nation’s industry “is ready to see lifting of the output caps,” said Ekaterina Rodina, oil and gas analyst at VTB Bank.

Igor Sechin, a close ally of Putin and Rosneft PJSC’s CEO, avoided a direct reply, when asked in late April if Russia should raise its oil production. Yet he pointed out that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are already expected to do so in response to tougher U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Rosneft could become the main driver of the production ramp-up, bringing an extra 200,000 bpd to the market by the end of this year out of the projected 300,000 bpd total increase for the nation, according to estimates from VTB Bank.

So far, the Kremlin has not given any guidelines about the nation’s oil-output strategy, sticking to a wait-and-see approach. In late April, Putin said that Russia has “colossal potential” to boost crude production but will honor its obligations under the OPEC+ deal.

The analysts agreed that OPEC+ is unlikely to decide on the future of the deal this weekend, when only a subcommittee of the larger producer group will gather to discuss policy. Members need more time to assess the impact of the tougher Iranian sanctions, as well as political tension in Venezuela and Libya, Marinchenko said.

“I would expect a statement on continued cooperation from Jeddah, while the final decision with final parameters will be taken and announced only in June” at the Vienna ministerial meeting, he said.

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