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By Rania El Gamal
RIYADH (Reuters) - OPEC would do better to leave the oil market slightly short of supplies rather than ending too early a deal on cutting output, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Wednesday.
The decline comes at a bad time for Saudi Arabia, which needs high and stable oil prices if it is to succeed in turning the planned share listing of oil giant Saudi Aramco this year into the world's biggest share sale.
"If we have to err on over-balancing the market a little bit, so be it," Falih said after meeting Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak in Riyadh. Novak and other Russian officials also met Saudi King Salman in the Saudi capital on Wednesday.
"Rather than quitting too early and finding out we were dealing with less reliable information ...
Stay the course and make sure that inventories are where the industry needs them," Falih said.
Moscow, however, has signalled a gradual exit might be needed from the second half of this year.
Falih has insisted the cuts will continue throughout 2018 and, to avoid shocking the market, any exit after that would be very gradual.
OPEC has made the five-year average its main target and managed to reduce the glut to 100 million barrels above that benchmark, from 300 million when the cuts began in 2017.
"It is way too premature to discuss an exit strategy ... Do we need to adjust for rising demand and look at forward day cover? How do we deal with non-OECD inventory? (It's) less transparent and reliable," Falih said.
"We will discuss it in April and June ... I think we are going to be sticking with our policy throughout 2018 and that is necessary to balance markets".
SAUDI EXPORT RESTRAINT
The kingdom will keep its crude exports below 7 million barrels per day (bpd) next month, despite a maintenance shutdown of the 400,000-bpd SAMREF refinery, the ministry said, confirming a plan given by industry sources.
"Market volatility is a common concern for producers and consumers, and the kingdom is committed to mitigating this volatility and moderating its negative impacts by responsibly meeting its pledges" under the OPEC-led supply deal.
OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo, who was also in Riyadh, said oil demand would grow this year at healthy levels and that data pointed to continued high compliance by producers in January with their pledges under the supply deal.
OPEC has delivered more than 100 percent of the output cuts that members pledged under the deal, according to figures from OPEC and other analysts, helped in part by an involuntary drop in Venezuela, where output is falling amid an economic crisis.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)