Oil Falls as Russia Needs Time on More OPEC+ Cuts

Energy Minister Alexander Novak (centre) and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in November 2019 (File Photo - Source: Kremlin.Ru)
Energy Minister Alexander Novak (centre) and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in November 2019 (File Photo - Source: Kremlin.Ru)

Oil prices slipped on Friday as Russia said it would need more time before committing to output cuts along with OPEC and other producers amid falling demand for crude as China battles the coronavirus epidemic. 

Brent crude futures fell 49 cents, or 0.9%, to $54.44 a barrel by 1305 GMT, and were heading for a fifth weekly loss due to persistent concerns over the impact of the virus. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 53 cents, or 1%, at $50.42 a barrel, also heading for a fifth consecutive week of losses. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow supported cooperation with other producers, in remarks which appeared to boost prices in early trading. 

However, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday Russia needed a few days to analyze the oil market and would clarify its position on deeper cuts next week. Novak predicted global oil demand may fall by 150,000-200,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2020 amid the virus - a relatively conservative forecast. 

A panel advising the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia, known as the OPEC+ group, suggested provisionally cutting output by 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), three sources told Reuters on Thursday. 

The OPEC+ group, which pumps more than 40% of the world's oil, has been withholding supply and agreed to deepen the cuts by 500,000 bpd from the start of this year, to 1.7 million bpd, nearly 2% of global demand. 

"The oil market may be willing to show some patience until the Kremlin decides the next course of action - how patient remains to be seen," BNP Paribas analyst Harry Tchilinguirian told the Reuters Global Oil Forum. 

Prices came off earlier highs after China's central bank governor said the world's second-biggest economy may experience disruptions in the first quarter. 

Eurasia group said it estimates a contraction in oil demand in China, the world's biggest importer of crude, of as much 3 million bpd in the first quarter from 2019 levels. 

Meanwhile, JPMorgan cut its estimate for Brent to average $60.40 a barrel in 2020, down $4.1 from its earlier forecast. Oil prices have fallen by more than a fifth since the outbreak of the virus in the city of Wuhan in China. 

"There is still plenty of uncertainty around the global balance, with it unknown how demand will evolve in coming months as a result of the coronavirus," ING Economics said in a note. 

(Reporting by Noah Browning and Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by David Evans and Louise Heavens)

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