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OPEC agrees to limit oil output

Aomar Ouali
Associated Press

Algiers, Algeria — OPEC nations reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday to curb oil production for the first time since the global financial crisis eight years ago, in an effort to reduce a global glut of crude that has depressed oil prices for more than two years and weakened the economies of oil-producing nations.

The deal was reached after several hours of talks in the Algerian capital, though output levels must still be finalized at an OPEC meeting in Vienna in November.

The preliminary deal will limit output from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to between 32.5 million and 33 million barrels per day, said Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, Qatar’s energy minister and current president of OPEC. Current output is estimated at 33.2 million barrels per day.

Benchmark U.S. crude jumped $2.38, or 5.3 percent, to close at $47.05 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, was up $2.72, or 5.9 percent, to $48.69 a barrel in London.

Long-running disagreements between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran had dimmed hopes for a deal at Wednesday’s talks.

Iran had been resistant to cutting production, as it’s trying to restore its oil industry since emerging from international sanctions over its nuclear program earlier this year. According to Wednesday’s deal, Iran will be allowed to increase production to 3.7 million barrels a day, according to Algerian participants at the meeting. It is currently estimated to be pumping around 3.6 million but had been aiming for 4 million per day.

The deal was a victory for Algerian officials who shuttled overnight Tuesday and all day Wednesday among participants to try to reach common ground on how to support oil markets. The OPEC officials met informally on the sidelines of an energy conference in Algiers.

“Our optimism was vindicated,” said Energy Minister Noureddine Bouarfaa. “The decision was unanimous, and without reservations.”

Oil traded for around $107 a barrel in June of 2014, but increased output from non-OPEC countries, particularly the U.S., created an oversupply in the market. Instead of cutting production, OPEC opted to pump at high volumes in an attempt to maintain market share and drive some U.S. shale oil and gas producers, with higher operating costs, out of business.

Crude prices plunged, and in January of this year fell below $30 for the first time in more than a decade. The lower prices have hurt many oil-producing nations hard, particularly OPEC members Venezuela and Nigeria, but also Russia and Brazil.

“We reached a very positive deal,” said Nigerian Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu. He said all countries will reduce output but the specific quotas will be set in November.

Analysts said the deal could still fall apart.

“You might say they have kicked the can down the road with an intent to conclude something by November,” said Bhushan Bahree, an analyst with IHS Energy. “Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen.”

“They have agreed to agree — it’s still talk,” with few details or numbers, said Larry Goldstein of the Energy Policy Research Foundation.

Goldstein said the OPEC announcement could halt further slippage in short-term prices, buying time for Saudi Arabia and other cartel members.