Via Financial Times

Oil prices jumped in volatile trading on Thursday as a crunch meeting began between Opec and Russia that aims to pave the way for a global production deal to combat the collapse in demand from the coronavirus crisis.

Two sources said Thursday’s meeting was still focused on agreeing cuts of about 10m barrels a day, or roughly 10 per cent of pre-crisis demand, with plans to then bring on board other countries such as the US and Canada to further deepen cuts at a meeting of G20 energy ministers on Friday.

Brent crude gained as much as 11 per cent to reach a high of $36.40 a barrel shortly after the meeting started amid reports they could discuss cuts as high as 20m b/d. But Brent sharply reversed its gains to trade up less than 2 per cent at $33.34. West Texas Intermediate rose as high as $28.36 a barrel before falling back to $26.

Both benchmarks have lost half their value since the start of the year as the market wrestles with cratering demand caused by attempts to slow the virus’s spread and record oversupply due to a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Traders have been betting for the past week that a deal to cut supply by up to 15m barrels a day could be reached, helping to drag crude off an 18-year low near $20 a barrel. But hurdles remain to such a global agreement, which would equate to roughly 15 per cent of global pre-crisis supplies.

Participants in the talks said they were becoming more hopeful of reaching a deal on Thursday, but the size of the cuts was still in dispute. An announcement of the deal may only come after Friday’s G20 meeting of energy ministers.

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Donald Trump, the US president, has put pressure on Russia and Opec’s largest member Saudi Arabia to forge a pact to cut 10m-15m barrels a day of output. Both Riyadh and Moscow have insisted other countries, including the US, participate.

The US has indicated that its own production is likely to fall anyway because of the precipitous drop in prices that has upended the global oil industry, with demand down by about a third globally due to virus shutdowns and flight bans.

But Russian officials have pushed back against what they see as the US and other countries such as Canada dressing up natural production declines as mandated cuts, even as Moscow indicated it would be willing to reduce its own output by up to 15 per cent. The deal could hinge on every side accepting the others’ definition of what constitutes a supply cut.

Some traders believe that the likely outcome will therefore be a fudge. Helima Croft at RBC Capital Markets said she expected the “meetings will yield a broad framework agreement to curb output by a big headline number” but that it was likely to “be short on hard specifics such as duration, implementation timeline, and enforcement mechanisms”.

Energy ministers from the G20 group of the world’s wealthiest countries are due to meet on Friday for the first time ever after the so-called Opec+ group convenes on Thursday. The International Energy Agency and Saudi Arabia — which holds the rotating presidency of the G20 — are pushing for action.

Part of the plan is to ask consuming countries to contribute by buying up cheap oil for their strategic stockpiles, providing a boost to demand, and then including those barrels within the 15m b/d target, according to people familiar with the talks.

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The price crash has put millions of jobs in the energy sector under threat and risks causing uncontrolled shutdowns of oilfields around the globe as storage capacity runs out. That could damage fields in the long term, analysts say.

The Kremlin on Thursday reiterated its stance that all big oil producers must take part in any reduction deal. “Our position is clear: Russia stands for joint co-ordinated actions in the interests of stabilising the global energy market,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Peskov declined to answer a question on whether Mr Putin had held discussions with the leaders of other oil-producing countries outside Opec, aside from Mr Trump.

Mr Trump has repeatedly stressed he believes “free markets” will force a deal, as the collapse in demand means Saudi Arabia and Russia will find few buyers for their crude. Global storage threatens to be overwhelmed within weeks or at best months.

But Mr Trump has also held out the threat of tariffs on oil from Saudi Arabia and Russia, blaming them for starting a price war after they moved to raise production last month, despite falling demand.

Goldman Sachs warned this week that the hit to demand meant that a cut of 10m barrels a day “would not be sufficient”, even though it would be by far the largest supply agreement in history.