SINGAPORE, Jan 31 (AFP): Oil prices skidded lower in Asian trade today as OPEC oil ministers were expected to keep current production ceilings, snubbing a call by Iran to cut output, dealers said.
The release Monday of four foreign oil workers held hostage in Nigeria and expectations of a build in US energy inventories helped ease prices, but dealers said the market remains generally on an uptrend.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for March delivery, fell 10 cents to 68.25 from its close of 68.35 a dollar in New York.
Prices had surged 59 cents in US trade, but eased after Saudi Arabia said the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were in agreement to maintain the cartel's production ceiling of 28 million barrels of oil per day for now.
"Yes, yes, absolutely yes," Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, the most influential member of the cartel, said Monday when asked if there was an accord ahead of the OPEC meeting in Vienna Tuesday.
Iran had called for an output cut of one million barrels a day.
With OPEC members set to stick to the current production ceiling, "the most bullish outcome that could happen (at the Vienna meeting) is they will simply schedule another extra- ordinary meeting," he said.
While Nigerian insurgents released the four oil contractors an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran-they had kidnapped, the threat to the country's oil industry remain.
Oil prices continue to be volatile and could hit 71-72 dollars a barrel in April or May before the US summer driving season in which gasoline will be in great demand, dealer said.