OPEC To Meet About Falling Crude Prices

Oil prices held steady Friday after OPEC announced it would meet this month to address crude prices that have fallen 60 percent in just four months.

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Oil prices held steady Friday after OPEC announced it would meet this month to address crude prices that have fallen 60 percent in just four months.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries held an emergency meeting only three weeks ago and slashed production quotas by 1.5 million barrels a day.

Bench mark crude prices have dipped another 8 percent since then, suggesting that demand for energy has fallen so fast amid a global slowdown that OPEC, for the moment, has lost much of its ability to control the price of oil through production cuts.

It appears demand, or lack of it, is the most powerful determining factor for crude prices.

Oil prices steadied Friday as an OPEC official said the 13-member producers' cartel would meet Cairo Nov. 29 on the sidelines of a previously planned meeting of Arab members of the group.

The official asked not to be named because the Vienna-based organization is not issuing a formal statement.

It comes just weeks ahead of a previously set Dec. 17 gathering in Oran, Algeria.

Light, sweet crude for December delivery fell 32 cents to $57.92 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The crude futures contract settled at $58.24 after dipping to $54.67, a price last seen in January 2007.

Many analysts are sizing up the size of any recession as a gauge of future oil demand.

"Oil is just following the equity market," said Gerard Rigby, an energy analyst with Fuel First Consulting in Sydney. "If the stock market improves, oil will go up on perceived improved demand."

Most Asian stock markets rose Friday after posting steep losses earlier in the week. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 2.7 percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was up 2.6 percent, and Australia's benchmark gained 1.4 percent.

Asian markets got a boost from a big rally in U.S. stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average surged 6.7 percent Thursday, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 6.9 percent. U.S. stocks gained back $700 billion in market capitalization Thursday, after losing about $1 trillion during the first three days of the week.

However, Wall Street looked to give back some of the gains as investors again focused their concerns on the slumping global economy.

"The volatility is truly amazing," Rigby said. "It highlights the confusion and uncertainty we're in."

Oil prices have fallen about 60 percent during the last four months after reaching $147.27 in July.

OPEC, which produces about 40 percent of world supplies, has said it may cut production by the end of this month if prices continue to fall. The group's next official meeting is on Dec. 17.

Before the 1.5 million barrel cut, OPEC said it was taking 520,000 barrel out of daily production. That too was brushed off by the market.

"I can't see the price going below $50," Rigby said. "I think OPEC would do something. Another OPEC cut would get the market's attention."

Evidence of higher-than-expected U.S. oil demand also helped bolster prices. Oil inventories were unchanged last week at 311.9 million barrels, which is 2 percent above year-earlier levels, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Thursday in its weekly report.

Analysts had expected inventories to rise 1.1 million barrels, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. It was the second consecutive week in which inventories were flat.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures rose less than a penny to $1.88 a gallon, while gasoline prices dropped more than 3 cents to $1.27 a gallon. Natural gas for December delivery rose cents to $6.41 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Associated Press writer Alex Kennedy contributed to this report from Singapore.

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