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Saudi Arabia hints OPEC output limit won't change

VIENNA--Saudi Arabia is satisfied with current crude prices as well as global supply and demand levels, its oil minister said Monday, indicating OPEC will freeze its output ceiling.

“The market is in the best position it can be,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told reporters in Vienna ahead of a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on Wednesday to decide on production.

“Demand is great, economic growth is improving,” said Naimi, who represents the world's biggest producer of crude oil.

OPEC's dozen member nations from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America together produce about one-third of the world's crude and have an output ceiling of 30 million barrels per day — slightly above current production.

“Supply and demand are in equilibrium, inventories are in a good position,” Naimi said in the Austrian capital, where OPEC is headquartered.

“We are at the right price right now ... The price is market-decided. We're happy with whatever the market determines,” he added.

Saudi Arabia argues that current prices averaging US$100 per barrel provide acceptable income for producers without weighing too heavily on consumers.

Asked if OPEC should cut output amid the prospect of increased exports from Iran in the wake of the country's recent nuclear deal, Naimi said: “Why cut? Demand is there.”

Energy-monitoring organization the International Energy Agency predicts that demand for OPEC crude will drop to 29.10 million barrels per day next year from 29.89 mbpd currently — amid Libyan unrest and increased competition for the cartel's oil.

Libya's output has plunged to around 250,000 bpd compared with its usual production of 1.5 million amid deadly fighting between radical Islamist fighters and the army.

Additionally, OPEC is facing increased competition from shale energy, and has itself said that take-up of the cartel's oil will drop periodically until 2017, before rebounding slightly in 2018.

The boom in gas and oil extracted from shale rock found around the world, but especially in North America, has slashed energy costs for many consumers.

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