(Bloomberg) — An unprecedented accord between the world’s largest oil producers to ratchet back production and rescue crude markets from a catastrophic pandemic-driven collapse moved closer within reach after Russia signaled it’s ready to make cuts.Moscow, whose grudge against U.S. shale is arguably the biggest obstacle for a deal, said Wednesday it’s willing to reduce output by 1.6 million barrels a day, or roughly 15%. Oil prices surged in New York.At stake is the fate of entire oil-dependent economies, thousands of companies and millions of oil industry jobs as the OPEC+ coalition and Group of 20 oil ministers gather in two key video conferences this week. Crude futures have plunged to the lowest levels in two decades as the lockdowns around the world slash oil demand by as much as 70% in some places and Russia and Saudi Arabia battle for their share of a shrinking market.See also: Goldman Warns Global Oil Output Cuts of 10M B/D Won’t Be EnoughThe battle is not won yet, though, as the Kremlin insists the U.S. should do more than just let market forces reduce its record production. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has put huge diplomatic pressure on Russia and Saudi Arabia, while saying America’s cut will happen “automatically” as prices near 18-year lows have put America’s shale patch in dire straits.“I think they’ll straighten it out — a lot of progress has been made over the past week,” Trump said at a White House briefing Wednesday. “We have a tremendously powerful energy industry in this country now, number one in the world, and I don’t want those jobs being lost.”Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world that can boast oil production that’s profitable in the current environment. But the kingdom’s economy is at risk, too, as Riyadh needs much higher crude prices to fund its budget. So does Russia.The two largest oil exporters broke a historic pact to curb production in March, unleashing a flood of crude that’s overwhelming storage facilities worldwide just as the Covid-19 crisis wipes out demand. Russia argued at the time that it wasn’t willing to keep sacrificing production at its companies to prop up prices while shale explorers in the U.S. benefited from the cuts without contributing to them.Moscow hasn’t walked back from that view, but its apparent movement toward a deal after days of intense negotiation coincided with a slew of data showing the decline in oil demand caused by coronavirus lockdowns is deepening. Russia doesn’t have enough storage capacity to keep pumping crude if no one is buying it.While China is expected to ramp up oil processing in April, providing a glimmer of hope to the market, the move likely won’t negate historic declines in the U.S., India and elsewhere.U.S. demand now has fallen to 14.4 million barrels a day, the lowest level in data going back to 1990 and down more than 30% from pre-crisis levels, government figures showed Wednesday. In India, the world’s third biggest oil consumer, official data showed demand plunged nearly 18% in March, despite the fact the country went into lockdown only on March 25. And refiners privately said demand was down as much as 70% in early April.The staggering losses, coupled with anecdotal declines of up to 70% in Europe, mean the world may be consuming even less oil than previously thought, traders said. In normal times, the world uses about 100 million barrels a day, but some traders believe it’s consuming just 65 million, or even less.“The demand shortfall, which is much larger than the most optimistic amount of cuts by OPEC++, will eventually push prices lower,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil market at consultant Rystad Energy.The diplomatic wrangling between the world’s top oil producers had intensified on Wednesday before Russia’s statement on a possible production cut.The Kremlin said that Russia does not consider a supply reduction based on falling demand or lower prices to be a real output cut. It was the first statement from Moscow about this crucial aspect of the talks and indicated that President Vladimir Putin may be expecting a more significant contribution from the U.S. than his counterpart Trump is willing to give.“You are comparing the overall demand drop with cuts aimed at stabilizing the global market,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters at his daily conference call, when asked if Russia would accept U.S. production cuts driven only by market forces. “These are completely different things.”Washington has so far pointed to the reduction of U.S. production that’s expected as companies from Exxon Mobil Corp. to independent shale explorers slash spending in response to low prices. This process could remove a sizable amount of oil from the market, but it would happen only gradually and only if prices stay low.Also see: U.S. Price-Driven Cuts Are Lose-Lose for OPEC+: Oil StrategyBeyond the role of the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia haven’t yet agreed on how to distribute output curbs among each OPEC+ country, people with knowledge of discussion said, asking not to be named discussing diplomatic negotiations. Neither have they agreed on the baseline for the reductions.“It’s resolvable — the overwhelming likelihood is it gets resolved by tomorrow,” Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc. said Wednesday. “It’s a negotiation: Somebody has to change their position, or there’s got to be a meeting in the middle. I don’t see the gain for anyone of not having an agreement.”West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, surged as much as 12% after Russia signaled its willingness to cut production. The grade rose 3.2% to $25.88 a barrel as of 11:43 a.m. Singapore time after closing 6.2% higher on Wednesday. It’s still down about 58% for the year. Brent in London gained 1.2% to $33.24 on Thursday.With Trump pressing hard for a deal, and the whole Group of 20 involved too, a lot is riding on this week’s negotiations. OPEC+ will convene a conference at 4 p.m. Vienna time on Thursday, by video link. Saudi Arabia will lead a virtual conference of G-20 energy ministers the following day at 3 p.m. Riyadh time.As demand for gasoline, diesel and jet-fuel plunges, refiners around the world are cutting the amount of crude they process, in turn reducing their purchases. On Wednesday, more refiners cut rates by around 30%, including HollyFrontier Corp. and Marathon Petroleum Corp. Lower crude demand means barrels are diverted into tanks and oil tankers transformed into floating storage facilities.The most shocking drop in U.S. consumption was concentrated on gasoline, long the fuel that powered the American way of life. The Energy Information Administration said a proxy for gasoline demand fell to 5.06 million barrels a day, the lowest since weekly data is available starting in 1990. Separate monthly data suggests the U.S. may have not consumed so little gasoline anytime since 1969, the year of the moon landings.If Russia, OPEC and the G-20 can make a deal, it could result in a historic reduction of about 10% of global supply, or about 10 million barrels a day, dwarfing any previous market interventions. That’s something that the physical market for crude — trade in actual cargoes rather than futures contracts — needs immediately.Yet, traders and consultants are worried any deal between OPEC+ and the G-20 would end in a fudge, removing far less crude from the market than the headline cut of 10 million barrels a day suggests. In a note to clients that echoed the view of many in the market, Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd., asked whether the talks would culminate in “fake deal.”(Updates oil prices in 19th paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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