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OPEC+ Close to Dropping Early Meeting Idea as Russia Balks

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(Bloomberg) — OPEC and its allies were close to abandoning any plans for an emergency meeting this month to consider fresh production cutbacks as the coronavirus batters oil demand in China.

While Saudi Arabia hasn’t wholly given up on its push for the gathering, the OPEC+ alliance will more likely stick to a scheduled meeting in March as the idea hasn’t so far won over Russia, several delegates from the group said.

The Saudis had been pushing for the emergency meeting as the toll on oil demand from the global epidemic already appears to be severe. World oil consumption will decline this quarter for the first time in more than a decade as the virus reduces travel and economic activity in China, according to the International Energy Agency.

Though an OPEC+ committee last week recommended additional collective cutbacks of 600,000 barrels a day — on top of the 2.1 million already being made — Russia has yet to fully endorse the plan.

As Saudi Arabia sees Chinese demand plummet and its oil revenues fall, Riyadh is holding out hope it can still persuade Russia, the delegates said.

Russia, which is better able to weather low oil prices than the Persian Gulf states, has usually been reluctant to restrain output since the OPEC+ partnership was established three years ago.

Several analysts say the group will need to act, even if it waits until the planned March 5-6 meeting before announcing new measures.

Oil prices that reached more than $65 a barrel in New York in early January sank below $50 for the first time in a year last week. They’ve rebounded somewhat this week to around $52.

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