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US crude sinks 2.7%, settling at $51.49, after OPEC delays decision on production cut levels

Oil prices tumbled about 3 percent on Thursday as OPEC reportedly agreed to cut production, but on how much crude the cartel will take off the market.

OPEC agreed in principle to cut production during a meeting at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria on Thursday, two sources told Reuters. However, the cartel delayed a decision on specific quotas until it consults Russia on Friday.

OPEC began capping supply in partnership with Russia and several other nations last year in order to end a punishing downturn in oil prices. However, Moscow has not yet specified how much it will cut production during the fresh round of supply caps that is now under consideration.

“This is obviously a big disappointment to the market,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “It certainly gives the appearance of disarray within the cartel — and disunity more than unity for sure.”

International benchmark fell $1.77, or 2.9 percent, at $59.79 a barrel by 2:22 p.m. ET, after falling to a session low at $58.36. ended Thursday‘s session down $1.40, or 2.7 percent, at $51.49, bouncing from a session low of $50.08.

Oil prices briefly pared losses after government data showed U.S. crude stockpiles fell by 7.3 million barrels in the week through Nov. 30.

The two benchmarks have fallen more than 30 percent over the last two months. The oil price has been hammered by concerns that supply will outstrip demand next year, weakness in global markets and technical trading that has extended the selling.

Top OPEC producer has been leading calls for the group to trim output, amid surging supply and fears that an economic slowdown will erode fuel demand.

Oil producers appeared to be coalescing around a plan to remove 1.3 million barrels per day from the market earlier in the week. However, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told reporters on Thursday morning that a cut of 1 million bpd would be sufficient.

Falih said a production cut of 1.3 million barrels per day is “excessive” in light of Alberta‘s decision this week to cut 325,000 bpd in order to drain the Canadian province‘s brimming stockpiles of crude. Falih also noted that production from some OPEC producers is falling.

“The number that we need is going to be less than 1.3 [million]. Is it a million? Is it slightly less, slightly more? We have all day today and some of tomorrow to determine those numbers.”

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