Oil Gives Up Gains After Iran Plays Hardball

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By Jacob Maslow

Oil prices fell from three-month highs in European markets on Monday, after Iran said it will not be joining a collective output freeze anytime soon, or until it reaches twice the oil volume it currently produces.

Bijan Zanganeh, Iranian Oil Minister, said Tehran would only participate in discussions between major producers after it is able to raise its oil production to pre-sanction levels of approximately four million barrels per day.

“They should leave us alone as long as Iran’s crude oil has not reached four million. We will accompany them afterwards,” Zanganeh said on Sunday.

On the ICE Futures Exchange, Brent oil for May delivery shed $0.75, or 1.86%, to trade lower at $39.64 a barrel by 4:50AM ET, retreating from a three-month peak of $41.47 reached on March 8.

London-traded Brent futures went up $1.51, or 4.31%, last week as news of a meeting between major oil producers boosted investor sentiment, lifting global oil prices.

Oil ministers from Russia, Saudi, Venezuela and Qatar are scheduled to meet in Russia on March 20 to discuss details of the production freeze they previously announced.

In the U.S., crude oil for April delivery also dipped $0.75, or 1.95% to trade at $37.75 a barrel. New York-traded oil futures also surged to a three-month high of $39.02 per barrel on Friday on hopes of a production freeze and news of reduced overall U.S. drilling activity.

Oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange added $2.30, or 7.18%, last week, its fourth consecutive weekly rise, on signs of slowing U.S. shale output.

On Friday, the International Energy Agency said the 20-month oil glut may have bottomed out.  OPEC will also be releasing its own assessment of oil markets soon.

Meanwhile, Brent’s premium to the West Texas Intermediate crude contract was virtually unchanged at $1.89 a barrel. Friday’s gap was also $1.89.

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