ORAN, Algeria - OPEC's president suggested yesterday that the group was ready to slice its production to pull oil prices up from four-year lows and hinted that Russia was ready to follow suit.
OPEC oil ministers will announce tomorrow how they plan to prop up the value of crude, which fell again yesterday. Yet a volley of comments from major players within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries already has generated the buzz of a substantial production cutback.
That - and the prospect that crude heavyweight Russia will align its strategy with the 13-nation cartel to bolster prices - has added particular significance to tomorrow's OPEC meeting.
In a hint of what could come out of the ministers' gathering, OPEC president Chakib Khelil evoked OPEC's last meeting in Algeria four years ago, where "we reduced by 2 million barrels.
"It was a historic conference, and it enabled us to meet the challenge of falling markets," he told reporters.
OPEC is desperate to support crude prices, which have plummeted since the summer because of the global financial crisis.
Khelil said that a "fair price" for oil should be about $70 to $80 a barrel - the benchmark for several OPEC members below which they begin losing money.
OPEC, however, must weigh production cuts against the potential of further restricting investment during a widespread recession. Some ministers arriving here yesterday suggested "reasonable" OPEC nations would accept prices of about $50 a barrel in the short term so as not to contribute to the world economic downturn.
Light, sweet crude for January delivery fell $1.77 yesterday to settle at $44.51 on the New York Mercantile Exchange with more dour economic news from Asia and the United States.
Economic data from around the globe have continued to outweigh the threat that OPEC will cut supply.
Growth in China's factory output fell to its lowest level in nearly seven years as trade plunged, data showed yesterday. In the United States, a key gauge of homebuilder confidence remained at a record low this month.
In its latest monthly report, the International Energy Agency revised down worldwide growth forecasts for this year to 1.2 percent, or 1 million barrels a day, from 1.5 percent last month.
Still, the prospect of OPEC and Russia joining forces on output cuts has the potential to push prices upward, at least for the short term.
Russia is the world's major non-OPEC oil producer, at times churning out even more crude than OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which now has an allotted quota within the cartel of about 8.5 million barrels a day.
"We expect concrete support from them," said Khelil, who is also Algeria's energy minister. "We always wanted them to join OPEC." He noted that a 20-member Russian delegation to the OPEC gathering was headed by a high-level official, Igor Sechin, Russia's deputy prime minister for energy.