Saudi energy minister responds to Trump's tweet that said OPEC should 'relax'

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said OPEC is taking a measured approach to supply cuts, directly responding to comments from President Donald Trump earlier in the week telling the oil producing body to "relax."

"We are taking it easy," he told CNBC's Dan Murphy while at an OPEC symposium in Riyadh, when asked about the U.S. president's tweet.

"The 25 countries are taking a very slow and measured approach. Just as the second half last year proved, we are interested in market stability first and foremost."

On Monday, Trump lobbed the latest of a series of tweets aimed at OPEC's planned production cuts, agreed upon between the cartel's members and non-member allies in December of last year to counter a drop in oil prices and soaring inventories.

"Oil prices getting too high. OPEC, please relax and take it easy. World cannot take a price hike - fragile!" the president said.

"We listen to the honorable president, and hear his concern about consumers and assure everybody, whether it's him or developing country leaders, that we are as focused on the interests of the global economy and consumers around the world as we are focused on the interests of producers," al-Falih said. The U.S. became the world's largest oil producer in late 2018.

OPEC plus, which refers to OPEC and a collection of non-OPEC oil producers working in tandem with the organization, agreed on output cuts totaling 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in order to stem a sinking market and support their own export-dependent economies. The move riled Trump, who wants to keep oil prices low.

The cuts failed to bring the price of global benchmark Brent crude back up to anywhere near its early October highs of more than $84 a barrel, though it reclaimed losses from a low of just over $50 a barrel at the end of December to a year high of $67.18 last week. Brent fell by 28 cents as the minister spoke on Wednesday, from $65.75 to $65.47, and was trading at $65.57 at 8:35 p.m. London time.

Trump's tweets sent prices sliding on Monday, before they steadied Tuesday on signs that OPEC would continue its program of cuts. Saudi Arabia has so far borne the brunt of the cuts, with plans to slash its output to 500,000 bpd below its quota in March. Oil is up about 20 percent since the start of the year.

'Leaning toward' a production cut extension

Much speculation has surrounded whether OPEC plus will decide on deeper production cuts when OPEC members meet again in April. But December's production agreement is meant to last until June, by which time al-Falih said an extension of the deal is likely.

"We remain flexible, I am leaning toward the likelihood of an extension in the second half (of 2019), but that's not automatic," he said. "If we find out the fundamentals are tightening, by June you can bet that I will be just like we did last year encouraging my colleagues within the OPEC plus to ease the voluntary limits we set on ourselves and to increase supplies to ensure that there is no unnecessary tightening in the market."

The jury is out on the trajectory for oil prices in 2019, with many market watchers forecasting the commodity will be pulled down by slowing global growth and demand. Uncertainty from Venezuela and sanctions on Iran are factors that could support prices, depending on the scope of sanctions and waivers from Washington on Tehran and Caracas and on political developments in Latin America.

Goldman Sachs in a recent report predicted a wild ride for oil this year, forecasting a rise to as high as $70 to $75 per barrel in the coming months but followed by a drop back to $60 in the second half due to a surge in U.S. shale oil output and rising low-cost production from OPEC plus.

"The current levels are not God-given, this is just the best compromise we could reach back in December," al-Falih added, discussing the OPEC plus deal. "So if in June we find out we need to have a different limit, a different target from 1.2 million (barrels), certainly it is open. But the easiest way forward, assuming it is still an oversupply, would be to roll over."