With a battered economy, Iraq debates its contribution to OPEC+ oil cuts

With a battered economy, Iraq debates its contribution to OPEC+ oil cuts
Flames rise from the burning of excess hydrocarbons at the Hammar Mushrif new Degassing Station Facilities site inside the Zubair oil and gas field, north of the southern Iraqi province of Basra on May 9, 2018. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2020

With a battered economy, Iraq debates its contribution to OPEC+ oil cuts

With a battered economy, Iraq debates its contribution to OPEC+ oil cuts
  • Iraq’s economy and oil sector were battered by years of wars, sanctions and a stubborn Islamist insurgency triggered by the US invasion
  • In May and June, Iraq had agreed to reduce its crude output by just over 1 million barrel per day, which would then ease to 849,000 bpd from July until end of the year.

DUBAI/BAGHDAD/LONDON: A debate within Iraq over whether it should ask to be exempt from OPEC+ oil supply cuts has resurfaced as low prices squeeze its finances, challenging a government struggling to tackle the destruction of years of war and rampant corruption.
OPEC’s second-biggest producer, Iraq has failed in the past to fully comply with OPEC+ oil output reductions, pumping above its production targets since the pact was first signed in 2016 between OPEC and its allies led by Russia.
“Iraq always believed they were not properly treated in December 2016 when they were not exempted. As the economy continues to reel from low prices this issue keeps resurfacing,” said an OPEC source.
Iraq’s economy and oil sector were battered by years of wars, sanctions and a stubborn Islamist insurgency triggered by the US invasion. Baghdad complained it had struggled to revive its stagnating oil industry, at a time where other OPEC members benefited and boosted their market share.
Iraq relies on oil to fund 97% of its state budget. Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi told parliament on Wednesday that reforming Iraq’s economy would take five years of work and that state debt amounted to 80-90% of national product, while foreign debt was at $133 billion.
From May 1, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, made a record cut of 9.7 million bpd, or 10% of global output, after the coronaries destroyed a third of world demand. From Aug. 1, the cut tapered to 7.7 million bpd until December.
Iraqi politicians have criticized the pact which was signed by the previous caretaker government under which Baghdad had committed to a big cut in its output.
With oil prices currently trading at around $40 a barrel, opposition to the oil cuts is rising behind closed doors and talks of reviving old calls to review the size of the reductions have resurfaced, Iraq and OPEC sources told Reuters.
A senior Iraqi official with knowledge of the talks said there were differing views between the oil ministry and the prime minister’s office over whether to fully comply with the cuts or ask for an exemption for next year.
The oil ministry wants to ask for an exemption, the official, who declined to be identified, said, while officials in the prime minister’s office insist on compliance.
The disagreement revolves around Iraq’s current financial issues, the official added.
In May and June, Iraq had agreed to reduce its crude output by just over 1 million barrel per day, which would then ease to 849,000 bpd from July until end of the year.
Iraq has continued as a member of the deal but has overproduced above its quota.
But now Iraq needs to fully comply with the agreed output targets and even compensate for its previous overproduction in May-July by cutting deeper for the following months.
“There is strong opposition ... for their (Iraq’s) continued participation in the supply cuts,” the OPEC source said, adding that there has been unofficial talk about Baghdad’s need to seek an exemption from the oil cuts in 2021 but it was not clear whether Iraq would actually take that step or not.
In August, Iraq has reached its highest compliance in recent years but it has said it may need to extend the compensation period by two months.
Current Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi took office in May, becoming the third Iraqi head of government in a chaotic 10-week period that followed months of deadly protests in the country, which has been exhausted by decades of sanctions, war, corruption and economic challenges.
Iraq’s oil ministry spokesman said last week that Baghdad remained fully committed to the OPEC+ oil supply cut agreement, denying a media report that it was seeking an exemption from the reduction pact during the first quarter of 2021.
In June, Iraq has said it asked OPEC to take into consideration the members’ economic situation in sharing the burden of future oil cuts.
The World Bank estimates Iraq’s economy will shrink 9.7% in 2020 on back of lower oil prices and coronavirus, compared to 4.4% growth in 2019.


WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range
Updated 24 January 2021

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Despite long-term challenges, oil prices remain in healthy range

Oil prices have been stable since early January, with Brent crude price hovering around $55. Brent crude closed the week slightly higher at $55.41 per barrel,
while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) closed slightly lower at $52.27 per barrel.

Oil price movement since early January in a narrow range above $50 is healthy, despite pessimism over an increase in oil demand, while expectations of US President Joe Biden taking steps to revive energy demand growth are
still doubtful. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a hike in US refining utilization to its highest since March 2020, at 82.5 percent. The EIA reported a surprise weekly surge in US commercial crude stocks by 4.4
million barrels. Oil prices remained steady despite the bearish messages sent from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which believes it will take more time for oil demand to recover fully as renewed lockdowns in several countries weighed on oil demand recovery.

The IEA’s January Oil Market Report came as the most pessimistic monthly report among other market bulletins from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and EIA. It forecast oil demand will bounce back to 96.6 million bpd this year, an increase of 5.5 million bpd over 2020 levels.

Though the IEA has lowered its forecast for global oil demand in 2021 due to lockdowns and vaccination challenges, it still expects a sharp rebound in oil consumption in the second half of 2021,
and the continuation of global inventory depletion.

The IEA reported global oil stocks fell by 2.58 million bpd in the fourth quarter of 2020 after preliminary data showed hefty drawdowns toward the end of the year. The IEA reported OECD industry stocks fell for a fourth consecutive month at 166.7
million barrels above the last five-year average. It forecast that global refinery throughput is expected to rebound by 4.5 million bpd in 2021, after a 7.3 million bpd drop in 2020.

The IEA monthly report has led to some short term concern about weakness in the physical crude spot market, and the IEA has acknowledged OPEC’s firm role in stabilizing the market.

Controversially, the IEA believes that a big chunk of shale oil production is profitable at current prices, and hence insinuated that shale oil might threaten OPEC market share.

It also believes that US shale oil producers have quickly responded to oil price gains, winning market share over OPEC producers. However, even if US shale oil drillers added more oil rigs for almost three months in a row, the number of operating rigs is still less than half that of a year ago, at 289 rigs.

The latest figures from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show that crude futures “long positions” on the New York Mercantile Exchange are at 668,078 contracts, down by 18,414 contracts from the previous week (at 1,000 barrels for each contract).