OPEC crude output rose for the first time in six months as rising Libyan production outpaced a cut by Saudi Arabia, which has implemented a program aimed at curbing excess supply and supporting prices, a Bloomberg survey showed.
Output in the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries increased 97,000 barrels, or 0.3 percent, to an average 30.699 million barrels a day this month from a revised 30.602 million in January, the survey of oil companies, producers and analysts showed. The January total was revised 123,000 barrels a day higher, mostly because of a change to the Kuwaiti production estimate.
Brent crude for April settlement dropped 49 cents, or 0.4 percent, to end the session at $111.38 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Brent is the benchmark contract for more than half the world’s oil. West Texas Intermediate oil for April delivery fell 71 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $92.05 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since Dec. 31.
“The most interesting point is that the Saudis are sticking to their line,” said Julius Walker, global energy markets strategist at UBS Securities LLC in New York. “They’ve reduced production from nearly 10 million barrels in less than a year. This shows their intention to do what it takes to keep prices at a level they are comfortable with.”
Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, pumped 9 million barrels a day this month, the lowest level since May 2011. Output was down 100,000 barrels a day from January and 900,000 barrels from May, when production reached the highest level since at least January 1989.
The desert kingdom denied last month what it said were suggestions that it cut oil production to push prices higher and attributed the reduction to weaker demand, according to Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, an adviser to Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi. Consumption fell in Saudi Arabia after peaking in the summer, Muhanna said. Overseas demand also dropped because of slower euro-area growth and concerns about budgetary challenges in the U.S., he said.
“The Saudis have done what they needed to do to eliminate a glut of crude in the market,” Emerson said. “Brent is safely above $100 a barrel so they can stop cutting back. They will probably increase production in the second quarter.”
Libyan output increased 130,000 barrels to 1.24 million this month, the biggest gain of any member, the report showed. Production rose because of the reopening of the country’s Zueitina export terminal early this month.
The Zueitina port and pipeline pumping complex shut in late December because protesters prevented employees from going to their offices, leading state-run National Oil Corp. to suspend pumping crude into a pipeline. The harbor handled about 150,000 barrels a day of exports in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Production in Libya plunged to 45,000 barrels a day in August 2011 from 1.585 million that January, the last month before an uprising that overthrew the government of Muammar Qaddafi disrupted output.
“There was a relatively rapid recovery after the country’s civil war but Libya’s oil industry has been hit by a number of problems,” Walker said. “Libyan capacity has yet to reach pre-war levels. The production gain is a hopeful signal.”
Nigeria’s output climbed 90,000 barrels to 2.08 million barrels a day in February, the survey showed. It was the second-biggest production advance. The country’s production is recovering after flooding in September and October shut oil fields in the Niger River delta.
Iran pumped 2.63 million barrels a day, up 30,000 barrels from January, according to the report. The country produced 2.63 million barrels a day last month, the lowest level since February 1990. Output was down 820,000 barrels from February 2012. Iran, the group’s biggest producer after Saudi Arabia a year ago, is now tied in sixth place.
Sanctions aimed at stopping the Islamic republic’s nuclear program have hindered its ability to export crude oil. A European Union ban on the purchase, transport, financing and insurance of Iranian oil came into effect on July 1.
“Iran is taking a lot of the bite,” said Sarah Emerson, managing director of Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Massachusetts. “Other members have had it easy because Iranian output is down so much from a year ago.”
Persian Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, also bolstered output this month. The UAE increased production by 50,000 barrels a day to 2.65 million in February. Kuwaiti output climbed 50,000 barrels a day to 2.95 million, the most since September.
Angola reduced output by 80,000 barrels to 1.73 million barrels a day this month, the second-biggest decline, after Saudi Arabia. There were some technical problems with some offshore production blocks, Jose Miguel, a spokesman for the Petroleum Ministry, said without giving more details in a telephone interview today in Luanda.
Algeria cut production by 70,000 barrels to 1.13 million barrels a day in February, the least since May 2003. Discoveries last year won’t offset declines in output, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said in Algiers on Feb. 20.
“OPEC is the midst of a delicate balancing act,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy. “A number of members are struggling to maintain production rates.”
OPEC, provider of about 40 percent of the world’s oil, maintained its official production ceiling at 30 million barrels a day at a meeting Dec. 12 in Vienna. Ministers from the group’s members are next scheduled to gather May 31.