OPEC's efforts to bolster the oil price through a production cut appeared to pay off in mid-December. At its 12 December meeting in Vienna, the organisation decided to raise the official quota by 1.3 million barrels a day (b/d) but cut actual production by up to 1.7 million b/d. The immediate effect was to push the price of Brent crude above $27 a barrel, from $25 a barrel earlier in the week.
The price was pushed higher still as the Venezuelan political crisis ground into its second week. The Petroleos de Venezuela (PDV)strike brought production down to only 600,000 b/d from more than 3 million b/d the previous week, slashing world output by nearly 3 per cent. PDV claims that upstream capacity has fallen by 500,000 b/d during Hugo Chavez's presidency, which has focused on using the company to generate revenue for the president's ambitious programme of leftist reform.
A prolonged strike could have a more bullish effect on the market than the ongoing Iraq crisis. At the OPEC meeting, both situations were referred to but neither was directly addressed. The lack of a clear path of development in either situation led OPEC to postpone making decisions on the crises until its next meeting.
The raising of quotas to 23 million b/d - effectively meaning a cut in actual production of about 1.7 million b/d - was pushed for by Saudi Arabia. The kingdom will be forced to make the largest cut to output - 380,000 b/d from its November production.
The decision was not taken easily. A similar agreement taken at OPEC's meeting in Jakarta in 1997 prompted the price crash of 1998. However, it was clear that production had to be cut before the new year arrived - along with the seasonal fall in demand.
'The first quarter of next year is not the time to worry, the time to worry is the second quarter,' said Rilwanu Lukman, president of the OPEC conference. 'Right now, we are worrying about the second quarter.'