January 26, 1998 in Nation/World

Opec Ministers At Odds Over Declining Oil Prices

Compiled From Wire Services

The price of oil has tumbled to its lowest level in nearly four years, and OPEC ministers who got their countries into the mess are confused and divided as they try to drag them out of it.

Several ministers have called an emergency meeting today to deal with the crisis - which, of course, is a windfall for oil consumers - but their timing and strategy may be off.

The biggest player, Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi, won’t attend, so the handful of ministers who do show up will be stuck in a position where they can make recommendations but not actually do anything about the glut of oil on world markets.

OPEC decided in November, under pressure from the Saudis, to raise its stated output level by 10 percent, to 27.5 million barrels a day.

But the group was already producing 28 million barrels a day, and the economic crisis in Asia has trashed all forecasts for a big growth in global demand for crude oil this year. As a result, oil prices are in retreat.

A lot of noise with no action by oil ministers this week could further weaken the oil market, which also has been slumping as a result of a generally mild winter in the United States and Europe that has reduced demand for heating oil.

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