A meeting of the world’s leading oil producers on Sunday, April 17th, will be the major event for trading crude oil futures as OPEC members and non-members look to thrash out a deal to limit production.


What is the Doha Meeting About?

Rumours of an output freeze have been doing the rounds since Saudi Arabia and Russia struck an accord in February, helping to fuel a 50% recovery in oil prices from the 13-year lows near $27 a barrel struck in late January.

But so far there have been only vague commitments to limit production at January levels if other nations agree as well. And this week, after yet more reports of a deal, Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi appeared to rule out any accord. 

Sunday’s Doha meeting will see whether 15 of the world’s biggest crude producers can indeed hammer out an agreement to curb production.

Who Are the Main Players?

Saudi Arabia has been the main cheerleader for this deal, after previously being the force behind OPEC maintaining production in the face of a global supply glut.

The collapse in crude is traced back to OPEC’s decision in November 2014 to keep the rigs going at full tilt.

Saudi Arabia, the de facto OPEC leader and world’s biggest exporter of crude, eschewed its position as the chief swing producer in favour of keeping a grip on market share; a move designed to squeeze US shale producers.

But even low-cost Saudi Arabia has suffered as prices have slumped, with Fitch this week cutting its sovereign credit rating by a notch, the first such move since 2004.

In February, Saudi Arabia inked a deal with Russia, Venezuela and Qatar to freeze production at January levels.

Russia is the world’s second-largest crude producer, with output reaching a post-Soviet high this year.

Its participation in the Doha talks will be crucial and so far there the language has been upbeat from the Moscow camp, with the nation seen as a key power-broker between the Saudis and Iranians. Iraq has also publicly backed production curbs.

The deal hinges on Iran. Recently free to export oil again after striking a nuclear deal with global powers, there are serious doubts about whether Tehran will back a cap that has been dreamt up in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has said it will only cut if regional rival Iran follows – a hurdle that may not be overcome in Doha.

The US, the world’s third-largest producer of crude, won’t be represented in Doha. Its production is already falling as the high-cost shale rigs come offline – US output has fallen for 10 of the last 11 weeks and stockpiles are beginning to receded after hitting 80-year peaks.

Latin American nations, where output is already declining, have called for action to stabilize the market and appear strong supporters of any freeze.

Does it Matter?

Rumours of an imminent production freeze have been helping to push up crude prices away from their January nadir.

Having touched $27 earlier this year, crude was trading around the $41 handle before the Doha talks, although this remains well short of the $115-a-barrlel peak seen in June 2014.

Any move to cut production could reduce the pressure of supplies, but there are concerns that even this won’t help.

Goldman Sachs has issued a note saying that the meeting is more likely to deliver a “bearish catalyst”, although a “bullish surprise” is not off the table. Traders will need to position carefully.

The International Energy Agency says a production freeze will have little impact as stocks will continue to rise this year anyway.

Will There be a Deal in Doha?

Nothing is a certainty – a deal of some substance could yet be done.

"Ultimately, we believe the biggest hurdle to reaching any meaningful agreement will be the conflicting Saudi and Iranian stances, with Iran repeatedly stating that it would continue to grow production and regain its market share and its participation to the Doha meeting still uncertain," Goldman Sachs said.

Even with a deal of sorts, OPEC production could creep up as there are plenty of sources of output growth, the bank said.