OPEC, the producer of more than 40 percent of the world's oil, is supplying the international market with enough crude and cannot be blamed for record prices, the group's new president, Chakib Khelil, said.
"There is enough oil in the market," Khelil, the Algerian oil minister who took over OPEC's rotating presidency this year, told reporters today in Algiers. "It's the problems in Nigeria, in Pakistan and the credit crisis caused by the US subprime-mortgage market collapse that caused prices to increase."
He declined to say whether the 13-member OPEC may decide to raise output to curb prices, when it meets on Feb. 1 to discuss production targets at its headquarters in Vienna.
"If we see that the US economy has moved into a recession, we won't need to increase production because that will reduce demand" for oil, he said.
"OPEC seems happy with prices as they are," said John Hall, managing director of UK-based John Hall Associates energy consultants. "Otherwise, it would be thinking of increasing output to help the global economy and to meet rising demand from China and India."
Oil prices in New York rose to a record US$100.09 on Jan. 3, as violence flared in Nigeria, Africa's largest producer, cold weather in the northern hemisphere boosted demand for fuels and investors bought commodities to hedge against inflation.
Prices closed yesterday at US$97.91 a barrel.
The high price of oil will continue until the end of March, Khelil said on Saturday.
"The surge in price will probably endure until the end of the first quarter of 2008, before stabilizing during the second quarter," Khelil said on the sidelines of a conference on the security of hydrocarbon pipelines in Algiers.
Government reports that US job growth missed forecasts and that unemployment had jumped to a two-year high of 5 percent are fueling concern that the economy is headed for a recession.
OPEC members Iran, Libya and Qatar said last week that OPEC cannot curb oil prices and that speculation and fears of supply disruption from the Middle East and Africa are fueling oil gains. Indonesia, OPEC's second-smallest producer after Ecuador, is so far the only member to publicly support increasing output.