KUWAIT, Dec 12 (Reuters): OPEC ministers will agree to keep oil supplies at a 25-year high today to hold prices in check, members of the cartel said, delaying difficult decisions over cutting their output until early next year.
OPEC President Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah spoke to fellow ministers, including OPEC's most influential voice Saudi Arabia, over the weekend. He found unananimous support for retaining near-maximum production, with prices within sight of record highs and the onset of winter in top consumer the United States.
"All the delegates are willing to maintain our production levels," Sheikh Ahmad, Kuwait's oil minister, told reporters after a meeting of OPEC's monitoring committee late Sunday.
The committee, made up of Kuwait, Iran and Nigeria, will hand its recommendations to OPEC's full meeting at 0700 GMT today. Ministers will likely put off haggling over production until a special meeting a few weeks into 2006.
"I believe we will have a late January or early February meeting to discuss the second quarter," Sheikh Ahmad said today as he arrived at the meeting venue in the Sheraton Hotel.
Some members are worried that if they keep output at today's 30 million barrels per day prices will fall sharply in the spring as stocks build in consumer countries.
OPEC members, supplying more than a third of the world's oil needs, have grown accustomed to oil prices at the highest level for a quarter of a century in real terms.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, seemed relaxed about a possible dip in second quarter demand.
Strong buying from the United States, China and India has fuelled a two-year rally that has seen a doubling in the oil price. A shortage of refineries to churn out oil products like gasoline, diesel and heating oil has added impetus.