DOHA, Qatar -- A meeting of oil-rich countries in Qatar that had been expected to boost crude prices by freezing production fell apart Sunday as Iran stayed home and vowed to increase its output despite threats by Saudi Arabia.
Oil prices, which hit a 12-year low in January by dipping under $30 a barrel, had risen above $40 in recent days, buoyed by the bullish talks surrounding the Doha summit.
But instead of a quick approval of a production freeze, the meeting of 18 oil-producing nations saw hours of debate and resembled the dysfunction of an unsuccessful meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in December that sent oil prices tumbling.
The fact that producers couldn't agree to a freeze, let alone a production cut, likely means oil prices will drop again as markets open today.
"Prices will trade lower. Maybe sharply lower," said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities USA, noting the failure to reach agreement in Doha.
He noted that other factors were negatively affecting prices: U.S. crude oil storage remaining at all-time highs, Iran increasing production, and Libya looming on the horizon to boost output.
Speaking to journalists after the summit, Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, Qatar's energy and industry minister, suggested the lack of a decision showed that officials believed "the fundamentals of the market are generally improving."
However, he largely dodged the questions about whether another special summit will be called before OPEC's next meeting in June and whether Iran had anything to do with the breakdown of the talks.
"We of course respect their position, and ... we still don't know how the future will unroll but it was a sovereign decision by Iran," said al-Sada, who is serving as OPEC's president. "The freeze could be more effective definitely if major producers, be it from OPEC members like Iran and others, as well as non-OPEC members, are included in the freeze."
There were significant hurdles to any deal after Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince said the kingdom wouldn't restrain its production without commitments from other major producers, including Iran.
"It seems that, after all, the Saudis held their ground," said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA in London. "Iran made it clear from the onset that it would reclaim market share first, and Saudi made it clear through the deputy crown price that their participation was conditional on Iran's. The meeting was a nonstarter to begin with."
Sunday's gathering grew out of a surprise Doha meeting in February between Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, in which they pledged to cap their crude output at January levels through October, as long as other producers did the same.
Non-OPEC member Russia, which attended the meeting, was surprised that there wasn't an agreement, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters afterward. The four countries that initiated the push for a freeze in February agreed to a draft accord on Saturday, but some countries changed their position right before the summit the next day, leading to "hot discussions," he said.
A freeze could have sped up the rebalancing of the market by six months, which may now take until mid-2017, Novak said at a news conference after the talks. The "door is not closed" to a future accord, although "Russia won't be as optimistic as before," he said.
The idea of a freeze and not a cut initially looked more palatable to producers already suffering after oil's dramatic fall since the summer of 2014, when prices were above $100 a barrel.
Production continues to rise as countries try to make up the difference. Ahead of Sunday's meeting, Iraq boosted its production to record territory of more than 4 million barrels a day in March, and Kuwait pumped 3 million barrels a day with hopes of reaching 4 million a day by 2020.
And while car owners and airlines have enjoyed the low oil prices, the plunging oil revenues have wreaked havoc on countries like Nigeria and Venezuela, both of which attended Sunday's meeting.
The biggest wild card of the talks, however, wasn't even in the room. Iran decided to stay home late Saturday after saying the day before that it would send an emissary to the meeting. Speaking to Iranian state television, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said it didn't make sense to send any representative from the Islamic Republic "as we are not part of the decision to freeze output."
"We can't cooperate with them to freeze our own output, and in other words impose sanctions on ourselves," Zangeneh said.
With many international sanctions lifted under its nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, Iran began exporting oil into the European market again and is eager to claw back market share. It produces 3.2 million barrels of oil a day now, with hopes of increasing to 4 million by April 2017.
The enmity between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Iran, its Shiite rival, has spiked in recent months, and the kingdom seems determined to ride out the low prices that could squeeze Tehran.
In January, Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric, a move that sparked protests in Iran that saw demonstrators attack two of the kingdom's diplomatic posts there. That broke the conflict between the two countries into the open, amid them backing opposing sides in both Syria's civil war and the war in Yemen.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi repeatedly declined to speak to journalists during the meeting.
The dispute underscores the level of discord inside OPEC as it faces arguably its biggest challenge since the oil glut of the 1980s. Though more-costly U.S. shale oil production has dropped, it could re-enter the market if oil prices rise. And a large amount of crude already building up provides a major damper on prices, as does a generally weakened global economy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In the U.S., people have benefited from the turmoil in oil markets -- the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecast that summer gasoline prices will average just $2.04 per gallon nationwide. Last year, they were at $2.63 per gallon.
The U.S. did not take part in the Doha meeting.
The immediate effect of the summit's collapse likely will be seen in crude prices. Western markets were closed Sunday and not immediately affected. Stock exchanges in Saudi Arabia and Dubai closed in negative territory Sunday, with the Saudi Tadawul down 1.48 percent, the most in two weeks.
Dubai's DFM General Index lost 0.7 percent as the Bloomberg GCC 200 Index, which tracks the largest and most liquid shares across the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, retreated 0.8 percent. Abu Dhabi's ADX General Index extended gains a seventh day, adding 0.5 percent.
Information for this article was contributed by Jon Gambrell of The Associated Press; by Elena Mazneva, Wael Mahdi, Nayla Razzouk, Mohammed Aly Sergie, Samuel Potter, Sharon Wrobel and Ahmed A. Namatalla of Bloomberg News; and by Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson of The Washington Post.
A Section on 04/18/2016
Print Headline: Qatar oil meeting collapses; no freeze