Burning midnight oil can yield surprise outcomes

September 7, 2009

Late-night discussions can take unusual turns – especially when those doing the talking are members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The group will at 9.30 pm on Wednesday assemble for what in theory should be a straightforward decision to keep existing supply targets intact, given that oil prices are still widely considered high enough to offset producer concerns about overly full inventories.
But past performance implies a surprise cannot be ruled out.
The last time OPEC scheduled a meeting at night was in September 2008 when the talks again took place during Ramadan and therefore could not begin until after the fast of the day and feast of the evening.
That meeting ended at about 3 a.m., later than scheduled, with a decision that left exhausted journalists in shock.
Instead of the simple no change or slight adjustment to output that might have been expected, the first minister to emerge announced to the attendant press the group had returned to its “Doha quotas”.
What on earth were they? He did not explain, although it was later revealed he was referring to a decision made a year earlier in the Qatari capital. Obvious really, except some sleepy attempts at calculation failed to get the output targets to tally.
Needless to say, the OPEC press pack is praying this year’s Ramadan meeting will be less of a challenge to sleep-starved journalists.

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