Oil Steady Near $46 as OPEC Prepares Output Cut

SINGAPORE – Oil prices were steady near $46 a barrel Monday in Asia as investors anticipated OPEC will announce a large production cut at its meeting this week.

Light, sweet crude for January delivery was up 10 cents to $46.38 a barrel, after reaching $47.64 earlier in the session, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by late afternoon in Singapore. The contract Friday fell $1.70 to settle at $46.28.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which accounts for 40 percent of global supply, has signaled it plans to announce a substantial reduction of output quotas at its meeting Wednesday in Algeria.

Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari was quoted Sunday on his ministry's web site saying that Iran would push for a production cut of 1.5 to 2 million barrels per day.

Analysts have questioned whether OPEC members will follow through with any announced cut.

"They're talking about a severe cut, but the question is their discipline," said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, head of sales trading at investment firm Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore. "Unless they really surprise the market, this cut may not support the price much."

Oil has jumped from a four-year low earlier this month of $40.50 a barrel on expectations an OPEC output reduction could be the catalyst to stabilize the oil price, which has fallen 65 percent since July.

Investors largely ignored OPEC's 1.5 million barrels a day output cut in October, focusing instead on a slowing global economy that's hurt crude demand.

More bad macro-economic and company news from the U.S. and Europe over the coming weeks will likely push oil prices lower, Moltke-Leth said.

"I expect crude to continue its slide and I don't think OPEC is going to prevent that," Moltke-Leth said. "Demand destruction in the major economies will still very much be on the agenda. We could go as low as $30 a barrel."

In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures rose 1.23 cents to $1.09. Heating oil gained 1.28 cents to $1.51 a gallon while natural gas for January delivery jumped 9.7 cents to 5.59 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, January Brent crude fell 5 cents to $46.36 on the ICE Futures exchange.