Four-year low in oil prices helping keep brakes on inflation
Oil prices have tumbled to a new four-year low amid expectations that, despite the recent slide, Opec ministers will not take action to cut production.
In Britain it has helped keep a lid on inflation as the slide feeds through to fuel pump prices though petrol firms face pressure to do more to pass on the lower costs.
The cost of Brent crude dipped to around $76 a barrel, a third below its level in June, as members of oil cartel Opec gathered in Vienna.
A combination of the US shale boom and weakness in the global economy has resulted in supply outpacing demand.
But Saudi Arabia, which dominates the 12-member Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has downplayed the likelihood of a cut in production, with oil minister Ali Naimi arguing that the market would eventually "stabilise itself".
Earlier this month, the Gulf state had even cut the price of oil it sold to the US - seen as an attempt by the kingdom to remain competitive with shale oil.
However, there were reports that Venezuela was calling for a cut in production of two million barrels a day, as ministers gathered for the meeting in Austria today.
The Saudis are able to cope with lower prices but poorer Opec members such as Venezuela and Nigeria need a level closer to $100.
Yet some are in a quandary because, though they may wish for a cut in production to stabilise the market, they might not be able to afford to slash output themselves.
Without a cut, supply is on course to exceed 1.2m barrels a day next year, likely to result in a further price fall.
It is thought that a steep, co-ordinated cut could staunch and possibly reverse the decline. But a modest drop in output of 500,000 barrels per day might not be enough.
In June, the price of Brent crude had reached nearly $116 a barrel as the advance of Islamic State sparked fears over supplies from Iraq.
But gathering gloom over growth - with the eurozone stagnant and Chinese expansion easing - has raised fears of a glut of oil swilling around the world economy.
Brent crude slipped below the $100 mark in September and has continued to head lower - helpful for petrol-guzzling consumer economies but costly for many oil-producing nations and large oil firms.