Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab oil producers have called an emergency meeting for Tuesday to consider lowering their oil prices amid reports that the reductions may be more than previously expected following Nigeria's $5.50-a-barrel cut Saturday.
Some analysts were predicting that the gulf producers would match or even exceed the Nigerian reduction, and a Saudi newspaper said that the cut might reach as much as $7 a barrel to keep the gulf states' oil competitive in the glutted world market. Earlier, many analysts including sources close to the gulf producers had anticipated price reductions of $2 to $4.
A price cut by Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, and its allies almost certainly would lead to similar reductions by most producers who have not already lowered prices.
There was still no clear indication how the gulf states or the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as a whole intended to try to prevent an all-out price war. Algeria endorsed previous calls by Iran and Libya for an OPEC meeting to discuss how to prop up prices, but there was no sign today that a meeting of the cartel was imminent.
Oil ministers of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were scheduled to meet in the Saudi capital of Riyadh to discuss "current trends in the petroleum market" because of the Nigerian price cut and reductions Friday by Britain and Norway, the official Saudi news agency reported.
The council's members currently price their oil at about the official OPEC level of $34 a barrel. After last week's cuts, Nigerian and North Sea crude sells for about $30 even though it is higher in quality and closer to markets than gulf oil.
The Gulf Cooperation Council includes OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and non-members Bahrain and Oman.
An Omani official, speaking after a meeting in Riyadh of council foreign ministers, suggested that their oil ministers would not announce price cuts right away. He was quoted by the Saudi news agency as saying that the ministers only would try to draft a plan "for the stability of oil prices and for production policies."
The Saudi newspaper Asharq al Awsat, however, quoted "official sources" as saying that the gulf states were planning at some point to reduce prices by $5.50 to $7 "to maintain competitive levels after the North Sea and Nigerian reductions." It was not immediately clear whether this was a real possibility or a threat to scare the Saudis' rivals into a compromise.
The gulf press continued to attack Nigeria, calling its price cut "an open violation of OPEC's charter" and "the start of the deluge."
"Who will be able to stop the price war?" asked the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Watan.
With Nigeria indicating that it would reduce the price of its oil even further if necessary to avoid losing buyers, there was no certainty that prices would stabilize unless OPEC members were able to agree on a new pricing and production structure.
The problem for the Arab gulf members is that their crude has to sell for less than African and North Sea oil to remain competitive. Gulf oil generally is heavier--which means it yields less gasoline when refined--and has higher quantities of the pollutant sulfur.
Before the Nigerian price cut, Nigerian oil cost $1.50 more than Saudi light oil, which is the benchmark price for all of OPEC. Saudi Arabia had been demanding a $3 differential even before the Nigerian reduction.
Thus, the Nigerian cut virtually obliges the gulf Arab OPEC members to set their prices even lower than Nigeria to sell their oil. If the $1.50 differential were maintained, this would mean that the new Saudi price would have to be $28.50 a barrel and require a $5.50 reduction.
Some analysts estimated that the Saudis, to avoid fueling a price war, would adopt only the $4 price cut that originally was anticipated. Others, however, said that the price could be forced even lower, to around $26, if Nigeria or other OPEC members such as Iran and Libya lowered prices further without the cartel's approval.
The Arab gulf members of OPEC have shouldered much of the burden of defending the $34 price by reducing their production to dry up the glut. Saudi production, for example, has fallen from 10 million barrels a day in the summer of 1981 to 4 million-5 million today. Kuwait scarcely has been able to sell half of its OPEC quota of 1.2 million barrels a day.
In its announcement today, Algeria called upon OPEC President Yahaya Dikko, the Nigerian presidential oil adviser, to convene a meeting "as soon as possible" to discuss the "poor" state of the market.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, smarting under criticism from other OPEC members that they were responsible for the breakup of the last OPEC emergency conference in Geneva last month, are not anxious to hold another one unless the African producers--Nigeria, Algeria and Libya--are ready to reach an agreement on prices as well as production quotas.