OPEC agrees to boost daily output by 500,000 barrels

Seeking to cool volatile markets, OPEC ministers on Wednesday agreed to pump an extra 1/2 a million barrels of oil a day beginning April 1 and held out prospects of another production boost later if needed, an oil minister said.

The move appeared in line with a proposal by OPEC's president, Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah. He suggested Tuesday that OPEC agree to a rise in output of 500,000 barrels a day and follow it some time in the future, if necessary, with another hike of 500,000 barrels a day.

The minister, who demanded anonymity, said the next regular meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would be held in Vienna, Austria, on June 7. It was unclear whether Al Sabah would have the authority to decide unilaterally on any additional output increase before that meeting.

The decision appeared driven by OPEC concerns of high demand next winter and the need to build stocks to meet that expected draw on supplies.

Iraq is exempt from OPEC quotas as it rebuilds, and the decision Wednesday to boost output will officially raise the group's ceiling to 27.5 million barrels a day, tying an output record.

But with Iraq and quota-busting factored in, OPEC is already producing close to 29.5 million barrels a day.

OPEC data experts are urging the oil-producer group to boost output to around 29.7 million barrels a day and keep it there for the foreseeable future to head off a winter supply crunch, a Gulf delegate said Wednesday.

GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press

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