To understand just how contentious next week’s OPEC meeting will be, take a look at the confusion it’s created among professionals paid to predict the outcome.
The 20 analysts surveyed this week by Bloomberg are perfectly divided, with half forecasting the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will cut supply on Nov. 27 in Vienna to stem a plunge in prices while the other half expect no change. In the seven years since the surveys began, it’s the first time participants were evenly split. The only episode that created a similar debate was the OPEC meeting in late 2007, when crude was soaring to a record.
The split now reflects the difficult choice OPEC nations have to make. They could cut output to revive crude prices from a four-year low, at the risk of losing more market share to rival suppliers, including U.S. shale drillers. Or they could do nothing and allow prices to fall low enough to deter growth in U.S. output, a move that would also squeeze the finances of poorer members like Venezuela and Nigeria. With half the analysts in the market headed for a surprise, prices will be volatile after the meeting, according to BNP Paribas SA.
“It’s going to be a critical day,” Doug King, chief investment officer of the $200 million Merchant Commodity Fund, said by phone from London Nov. 14. “If there’s no action from the meeting, one of the most important OPEC meetings in the last 10 to 15 years, then the market will test them on the downside. If they cut 1.5 million barrels a day, you could get the Brent market back up into the $80 to $90 range.”