BRUSSELS — Reports that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has scrapped its pricing rules do not mean the end of high oil prices or the death of the cartel, analysts said Friday.
The oil minister of the United Arab Emirates, Mana Said Oteiba, told Abu Dhabi state television late Thursday that OPEC members are free to set their own prices and to disregard official production limits.
OPEC headquarters in Vienna was closed for a holiday Friday, but industry experts said they strongly doubted that Oteiba's remarks meant that OPEC was officially abandoning its pricing system.
"It's not as if he was announcing the death knell for OPEC," said Paul McDonald, an oil analyst at the investment firm of Shearson Lehman Bros. in London.
Oteiba seemed simply to be confirming what oil buyers had known for weeks: Virtually all 13 member countries are selling oil at prices below official OPEC levels and pumping as much as they like.
The spot, or non-contract, markets for crude oil showed little reaction to Oteiba's statements, with most prices holding steady or edging slightly higher Friday.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for sale next May was trading at more than $3 a barrel below oil for delivery in December.
Each $1 decline in the price of a barrel of oil is equivalent to a drop of about 2 1/2 cents a gallon in the retail price of gasoline, when the savings is entirely passed on to consumers.
In Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, some Arab diplomatic sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified, maintained there was no OPEC-wide accord on abandoning the pricing structure and production quotas.
They suggested that Oteiba was merely trying to test the response of OPEC and non-OPEC countries. Industry analysts said his remarks were more of a criticism against non-OPEC oil producers than an announcement of any intrinsic change in the cartel's policy.