OPEC for now is planning to hold its ministerial meeting as scheduled this week, pending a final decision Monday with a teleconference under consideration, sources told S&P Global Platts.
“At the moment, we are proceeding with our plans,” a source said on condition of anonymity. “We also remain in contact with the Austrian authorities.”
Delegations from the 23 countries that are members of the OPEC+ alliance are due to jet into Vienna to attend the meeting scheduled for March 5-6. OPEC is consulting with the World Health Organization over whether the meeting would be a threat to public health if it goes ahead, sources said. Representatives for the Austrian government say they are not participating in the decision-making process for the OPEC+ meeting.
“No general restrictions apply on [Austria’s] side. If the meeting is going ahead, however, can only be confirmed by OPEC,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry said.
A decision to delay the meeting would leave the future of the OPEC+ 1.7 million b/d production cut accord with Russia and other allies up in the air.
The deal expires at the end of the month, and with oil prices cratering due to the expected economic fallout from the coronavirus, OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has been pressing the producer coalition to deepen the cuts by some 1 million b/d through at least June, according to sources.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he backed continued oil market cooperation with the alliance but added that the current oil price was acceptable for his country’s budgetary needs, indicating some potential hard bargaining at the meeting this week.
The oil market has been in a tailspin, with prices settling Friday at 14-month lows. At 2:25 pm Singapore time (0625 GMT), the May ICE Brent crude futures, the new front-month, rose $1.75/b (3.52%) from Friday’s settle at $51.42/b, while the NYMEX April light sweet crude contract rose $1.38/b (3.08%) at $46.14/b. The World Health Organization upgraded its risk assessment of the epidemic to “very high,” with more than 85,000 cases reported worldwide and a death toll of more than 2,900.
Longtime OPEC watchers said any decision to delay the meeting this week would mark the first time the 60-year-old producer group scrapped a summit due to external events. On Sunday, the major IHS CERAWeek energy conference was cancelled, which had been scheduled for March 9-13 in Houston.
OPEC member Iran has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, with 54 dead and 978 confirmed infections, including of government officials, as of Sunday. Experts say the figures may be under reported.
Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh had been scheduled to attend the meeting with a reduced delegation, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Infections have also been recently reported in OPEC members Kuwait and Iraq and non-OPEC coalition members Bahrain and Oman, stemming from travelers who had been to Iran.
Vienna, too, has been hit by the virus, with eight confirmed cases as of Sunday, though no travel restrictions had been put in place.