Oil prices up slightly as Iraq turns off the tap

Published June 5th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Oil prices were pushed upwards Monday, June 4, as Iraq announced a halt to exports on the eve of a major conference of oil producing countries. The Iraqis called a one-month halt to exports in protest at US-British efforts to impose new sanctions on Baghdad.  


In New York, light sweet crude July futures gained 20 cents to $28.13 at the close of trading and after losing 44 cents in Friday's session. Earlier Monday, Benchmark Brent North Sea crude for July delivery closed at $29.22 a barrel in London, up from from $29.07 late Friday. 


Markets took comfort from the comments of energy chiefs from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) arriving in Vienna for a ministerial meeting starting Tuesday. Several OPEC ministers reassured consumers they would plug the gap left by Iraq if needed.  


But OPEC President Chakib Khelil said the oil cartel would not increase production at Tuesday's ministerial meeting. "I do not believe we will increase production at the meeting" he said.  


Iraq announced on Monday that it had halted oil exports under UN control, taking more than two million barrels of crude a day off markets, because of a one-month extension of the UN oil-for-food programme that aims to buy time before new "smart" sanctions can be drawn up. Baghdad wants a six-month extension. 


Iraq is a member of the 11-member OPEC, but has not been part of its quota system since sanctions were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. But traders here said they were not particularly concerned by the Iraqi export halt. "The reality is it's unlikely to have a long-term effect on supply," said Prudential Bache broker Tony Machecek. "I think it's very unlikely that it will last for any significant period of time." 


Experts however warned that if other OPEC members were to pump more oil to plug the gap left by Iraq, the extra crude would take time to reach the market. "There is certainly a feeling that if it does go on for any length of time then other OPEC members, particularly the Saudis, could make up a good part of that shortfall," said another Prudential Bache broker. 


“But in the short term there's definitely going to be missing oil because Iraq is not selling it and OPEC cannot immediately make up the shortfall," he added. GNI brokerage analyst Lawrence Eagles said that OPEC was better placed to make up any shortfall than it had been last November when Iraq last held back crude exports. 


"Then Saudi Arabia was pumping at full flow and it and the rest of the cartel had little spare capacity," he wrote in a research note. "This time Saudi Arabia alone can pump an extra 1.5 million barrels per day and some others have spare capacity." — (AFP) 


© Agence France Presse 

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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