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As OPEC acts on New Year’s resolution, U.S. shale pumps away

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NEW YORK (Bloomberg) — U.S. shale is getting in the way of a New Year’s resolution by OPEC to cut production and boost the market.

Producers and merchants increased their bets on lower West Texas Intermediate crude prices to the highest level since 2007 as futures held above $50/bbl. The increase in hedging against a price drop signals a comeback in U.S. shale output, just as OPEC members and other producers seek to reduce supply.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reached an agreement in November to cut production by 1.2 MMbopd for six months starting in January, and were joined by 11 non-OPEC nations in an effort to reduce a global glut. The Energy Information Administration last week raised its forecast for 2017 U.S. crude production. A Barclays Plc survey showed North American oil and gas explorers will spend 27% more this year.

“It may not all be physical above-the-ground inventory that is being hedged, but it may be a portion of 2017 and 2018 planned production,” Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said Friday. “Certainly, if there was strong conviction that oil prices are heading for $70, then producers would be less inclined to sell at current levels.”

Producers and merchants increased their short positions, or bets on lower prices, to 675,968 futures and options in the week ended Jan. 10, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. WTI fell 2.9% to $50.82/bbl during the report week, and slipped 0.2% to $52.25 at 9:20 a.m. London time on Monday.

Making Comeback

The U.S. oil rig count increased in 10 out of the past 11 weeks, according to Baker Hughes Inc. data. The EIA also reported that U.S. crude output rose to the highest level since April in the week ended Jan. 6, while crude stockpiles surged by the most since November.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has reduced production to less than 10 MMbpd, below its targeted level, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Thursday. Algeria also will curb output by more than it agreed, while Iraq hopes to meet its full cut by the end of the month.

Hedge funds held mostly steady during the period, CFTC data show. Money managers’ net-long position rose 0.5% to 305,909 while long and short positions both fell.

Deal Compliance

Oil producers will adopt compliance mechanisms at a meeting in Vienna on Jan. 22, OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said in a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. Members will also meet in the city in May to assess the market and decide whether the group, as well as non-OPEC producers, need to extend the agreement to curb production, Barkindo said.

Investors are looking at “compliance and the response of what shale is going to be,” Michael D. Cohen, the head of energy commodities research at Barclays Capital in New York, said Friday.

Higher production from countries outside OPEC’s deal will complicate the organization’s task. U.S. oil output will grow by 110,000 bpd this year and will be higher on an annual basis by April, the EIA said in its Short-Term Energy Outlook on Jan. 10. One OPEC producer exempt from the deal, Libya, has increased output to 700,000 bpd, a National Oil Corp. official said earlier this month.

Producers are “protecting themselves,” Tariq Zahir, a New York-based commodity fund manager at Tyche Capital Advisors LLC, said Friday. “The production increase from the U.S. coupled with Libya’s increases are really going to hit the market going forward.”

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