OPEC holds oil output ceiling amid demand fears

VIENNA (AFP) - OPEC held its output ceiling steady at a meeting in Vienna on Friday, saying it was worried about the effect of weak global and euro zone growth on demand for oil.

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which pumps about 35 per cent of global oil supplies, said it would leave the output ceiling at 30 million barrels per day (mbpd), where it has stood since late 2011, despite actual output exceeding the target.

"Everybody has agreed to maintain the level of production and we are monitoring the market," Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters, adding that the 12-nation cartel was particularly anxious about the impact of the euro zone debt crisis on energy demand.

OPEC, comprising nations from Afica, Latin America and the Middle East, is aware that cutting production could raise oil prices and boost their incomes - but that this could also hurt the fragile global recovery.

Ministers also discussed booming shale oil production in the United States, and its impact on the global energy market.

World oil prices steadied after Friday's decision, which was in line with market expectations and comes after ministers had stated their satisfaction with current oil price levels.

Benchmark Brent crude oil prices stood at US$101.62 (S$127.04), which was above the key US$100 level deemed suitable by cartel kingpin Saudi Arabia.

"We are monitoring the market because the economic situation in the EU is difficult, and when we are meeting next time in December we will have more elements," Mr Ramirez said.

He added: "We have to defend the price, we're going to defend the price."

United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei also told reporters: "The meeting was excellent."

OPEC ministers had already revealed that they expected to keep oil output levels unchanged, despite persistent demand worries.

"The relative steadiness of prices during 2013 to-date (is) an indication that the market was adequately supplied, the periodic price fluctuations being a reflection of geopolitical tensions," OPEC said in a statement issued after the meeting.

It added: "The conference observed ... that whilst world economic growth was projected to reach 3.2 per cent in 2013, up from 3.0 per cent in 2012, downside risks to the global economy, especially in the OECD region, remain unchecked."

World oil demand was expected to rise from 88.9 million barrels of oil per day in 2012, to 89.7 mbpd in 2013.