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OPEC Output at New High in March, Despite Iran Drop

Source: Reuters 3/30/2012, Location: Middle East

OPEC oil output has risen in March to its highest since October 2008 as higher supply from Iraq and further recovery in Libya's production offset a drop in shipments from Iran, a Reuters survey found. Supply from the 12 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has averaged 31.26 million barrels per day (bpd), up from 31.16 million bpd in February, the survey of sources at oil companies, OPEC officials and analysts found.

The survey found that exports from Iran are falling as some buyers stop or scale back purchases because of sanctions. Concern about Iranian supply has helped drive a 15 percent rally in oil prices this year to $123 a barrel. LCOc1

OPEC is pumping far more than its official production target of 30 million bpd but oil prices have rallied and inventories have not increased. For some, that indicates demand may be stronger than expected.

"OPEC has been consecutively increasing production over the recent months and yet this has failed to translate in a material rise of OECD inventories from their five-year lows," said Harry Tchilinguirian, analyst at BNP Paribas.

"This suggests to us that the market is not fundamentally developing a surplus."

In March, the biggest increase in OPEC supply once again came from Libya, where output continues to recover after being virtually shut down during the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's rule.

Iraq provided the second-largest boost as exports rebounded after weather-related disruptions in February and as a new Gulf shipping outlet provided a long-awaited boost to capacity.

Despite fewer barrels from Iran, March's total is OPEC's highest since October 2008, shortly before the group agreed to a series of supply curbs to combat recession, based on Reuters surveys.

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