OPEC: Oil Prices Will Stay High

OPEC (search) warned Sunday that oil prices, already hovering near $50 a barrel, would remain high through the spring, even as the cartel decided to keep its production ceiling at 27 million barrels a day.

The decision, reached at a meeting of the 11-nation group in the Austrian capital, offers little solace for consumers worried about the price of heating oil this winter.

Kuwait's oil minister Sheik Ahmad Fahd al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who leads the group, said he was given permission to conduct a meeting via telephone before the next meeting in March to address the production issue if market conditions warrant.

Al-Sabah said the group's decision was aimed at bringing more stability to the market, and called on consumers and producers to "walk together ... for prices to be acceptable."

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search) also decided to temporarily suspend its price band of $22 to $28 a barrel, which was set in March 2000 and has largely been ignored since 2004.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said the price needs to be changed, but added that OPEC didn't have a specific target for its reference basket of seven crudes. On Friday, the basket price stood at $41.88.

Indonesian Oil Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the rate, adjusted for inflation and the declining dollar, would be around $32 to $35 a barrel.

Most OPEC oil ministers have said there's no need to modify output, despite the high prices — a feeling that could cause more consumer concern.

OPEC, which accounts for one-third of the world's oil supply, is seeking to keep its buyers — and their consumers — from becoming jittery that prices could resume their climb. Prices hit a record $55.17 per barrel in late October.

Qatari oil minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said OPEC would probably have a surplus of 1.5 million barrels a day during the second quarter.

On Friday, light, sweet crude for March delivery dropped $1.66 to $47.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent for March delivery fell $1.49 to $44.95 on the International Petroleum Exchange.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez wasn't among the ministers, citing talks his country held with China over the weekend in Caracas that resulted in several trade agreements.