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OPEC revises down expectations of oil demand growth

Group's reference for crude falls further to lowest level since mid-July

The OPEC cartel on Thursday revised down its expectations of oil demand growth for next year and projected a rare big winter stockbuild if the group keeps producing at current levels.

Also on Thursday, the OPEC news agency reported the group's reference for crude fell further to $35.49 a barrel on Wednesday, down from Tuesday's $35.94 and the lowest level since mid-July.

OPEC also said it would be too early to tell if a recent fall in oil rates signalled that prices had peaked.

The group estimated likely demand for its crude oil to average 28.2 million bpd over the fourth quarter this year and first quarter 2005, some 2 million bpd below its estimated October production, it said in its monthly Oil Market Report.

OPEC also lowered its estimate of world demand growth next year by 120,000 bpd to 1.49 million bpd as the economic expansion that has driven fuel demand this year slows, the report said.

"World oil demand growth estimates for next year have once again been adjusted to account for the lower rate of global economic growth," the report said.

Wednesday's price puts OPEC's reference price $8 above the top end of the cartel's official, but long disregarded, target range of $22-$28 a barrel.The target band was introduced in March 2000 but the reference basket has above that level all this year.

OPEC has been pumping at its highest level for 25 years to meet rising global demand and the cartel raised production another 78,000 bpd in October to 30.23 million bpd on higher supply from top world exporter Saudi Arabia, the report said.

OPEC's output surge has helped replenish inventories in consuming nations and bring prices down around 15 percent from record highs over the last three weeks. U.S. crude was up 8 cents at $46.92 a barrel on Thursday.

Fears of a big stockbuild in the first half of this year spurred OPEC to reduce output, before Chinese demand growth strain-ed supplies more than expected and sent prices rocketing.

The winter stockbuild projected by OPEC is larger than the International Energy Agency's forecast last week of a 1.65 million bpd increase through to end-March if OPEC keeps pumping at current rates.

Brent crude closed at $42.6 per barrel on Thursday. In New York oil was traded at $46.15 per barrel at midday.

Beirut,11 22 2004
Redaction
The Daily Star
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