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OPEC signals no changes to output cuts at upcoming monitoring committee meeting

London — With oil inventories still bloated, OPEC ministers are signaling not to expectany changes to their production cut agreement when a monitoring committeemeets Sunday, despite the recent run-up in prices that has given momentum toforecasts of a US shale resurgence.

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The rapid rise to about $70/b -- 10% higher since OPEC's November 30 meeting-- "was not expected, quite frankly," Nigerian oil minister Emmanuel Kachikwusaid Saturday at an Atlantic Council energy forum in Abu Dhabi, though he saidit was "fantastic."

OPEC would now aim to "try and protect" current price levels, he said, thoughthe primary focus is to foster a balance between encouraging companies toinvest in oil development, while not blunting global economic growth.

"The resolve is to have a reasonable figure that allows investment and at thesame time allows consumers some number that allows them to be comfortable tobe good consumers," Kachikwu said. "That number is somewhere in the $60s."

As such, he said he would be in favor of "no action, really," when themonitoring committee meets in Oman to review the deal and assess marketconditions.

"Right now, the fundamentals are still the same," he said. "We shouldn't gettoo bullish or excited yet. Things can change overnight."UAE Energy MinisterSuhail al-Mazrouei, speaking at the same event, noted that inventories arestill some 100 million barrels above the targeted five-year average and thatthe market was "still correcting itself."

"My expectation is to stay the course," said Mazrouei, who assumed therotating OPEC presidency this year. "We will meet in Oman next week and take alook. I'm not expecting us to make some changes because of a week or month" ofdata.

The deal calls on OPEC and 10 non-OPEC countries led by Russia to cut acombined 1.8 million b/d through the end of 2018, as the producer nations seekprice stability.

But oil prices are hovering near three-year highs, and the US oil rig count inthe past week increased 10 to 752, the biggest rise since June, according toservice company Baker Hughes. The US Energy Information Administration onTuesday forecast that US production would average 10.3 million b/d this year,a 400,000 b/d upward revision from December's projection.

With ICE Brent futures prices having increased more than 50% from their 2017low in June, Iranian oil minister Bijan Zangeneh on Tuesday warned ofovershooting, saying that "OPEC members are not much keen on seeing oil pricesrising too much above $60/b because of shale."OPEC is facing some potentialsupply challenges ahead, however.

Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy with RBC Capital Markets, saidthat much of OPEC lacks the capacity to boost production significantly to takeadvantage of higher prices and compete for market share against growing USshale supplies.

Venezuela's production has declined precipitously due to a severe economiccrisis and mismanagement of state oil company PDVSA, with analysts seeingscant prospect of any near-term recovery.

Iran is also facing the prospects of renewed US sanctions on its oil sector.US President Donald Trump on Friday issued a 120-day waiver of the sanctionsbut warned that it would be his last such waiver, unless Congress and Europeanallies fix what he says are severe flaws in the nuclear deal.

The EIA has estimated OPEC's spare production capacity at 2.11 million b/d,all in the Middle East.

The International Energy Agency has a higher estimate, at 3.41 million b/d asof November. Of that, 2.23 million b/d is in Saudi Arabia, OPEC's de factoleader whose energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, has pledged to maintain outputdiscipline while the production cut agreement remains in effect through 2018.

Much of the rest of the IEA's estimate of spare capacity rests in SaudiArabia's close Gulf allies, including Kuwait (230,000 b/d) and the UAE(300,000 b/d).

"This issue of cheating [on quotas] has been a bit overblown," Croft said atthe Atlantic Council event, which was webcast. "It's a small number ofcountries that could really ramp up production."

Mazrouei agreed and said there are "issues with so many countries in terms ofwill we see the same production or will we see a decline." Compliance with theOPEC/non-OPEC cuts was 122% in November, and when the monitoring committeereviews the December numbers at Sunday's meeting in Oman, he said he expectscompliance to be even higher.

OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo said 2018 demand for crude could comein even stronger than the current 1.5 million b/d growth above 2017 levelsthat the secretariat is projecting. That would accommodate any growth in USshale supplies, while keeping prices elevated.

"Global economic growth hasn't been this healthy since the last financialcrisis," he said.

--Herman Wang, herman.wang@spglobal.com

--Edited by Maurice Geller, maurice.geller@spglobal.com