OPEC TAKES CENTER STAGE

Oil ministers from OPEC’s 14 countries and several of the cartel’s allies began descending on Vienna on Tuesday ahead of the group’s big oil policy meeting on Thursday, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Amon.

The run-up to the meeting is almost as important as the gathering itself, as ministers hold face-to-face talks in the Austrian capital’s opulent hotels over the next two days.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other big producers including Russia are expected to extend an agreement that has limited oil output from nations that provide almost 60% of the world’s crude oil.

The agreement is partially credited with drawing down a global oversupply of crude and sending oil prices to their highest levels in two years.

U.S. oil prices are chasing $60 a barrel for the first time since 2015, “as unexpectedly strong global growth has driven demand and helped soak up a supply glut that has plagued the market for years,” write Stephanie Yang and Alison Sider.

But doubts about the agreement are weighing down prices this week.

Oil prices fell on Tuesday, with Brent, the global benchmark, down 0.74% at $62.91 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate futures trading down 0.93% at $57.57 a barrel.

Analysts said the scope of the agreement under discussion remains unclear. Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said Tuesday in Dubai that there were “differences” over how long the deal should last, reports Nicolas Parasie on Dow Jones Wires.

The Saudis have pushed for extending the agreement through the end of 2018, an idea that Russia has expressed only tepid support for.

The Journal will have a team on the ground in Vienna covering OPEC this week, including reporters Benoit Faucon, Summer Said and Christopher Alessi, along with Energy Editor Michael Amon.

Check wsj.com for updates and follow the team on twitter — @benoitfaucon, @summer_said, @chrisalessiWSJ and @michaelkamon.

SHELL TO PAY ITS DIVIDEND IN CASH IN LATEST SIGN OF HEALTH FOR BIG OIL FIRMS

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Tuesday it would begin paying its dividend only in cash, a fresh sign that big oil companies are trying to reward investors after struggling in recent years, the Journal reports.

Shell, the world’s second-largest Western oil company behind Exxon Mobil Corp, said it was scrapping a program that gave shareholders the option of receiving dividends in discounted stock, known as scrip.

The company said it changed its dividend program because its free cash flow forecasts had risen to $25 to $30 billion by 2020 at Brent crude prices of $60 a barrel—$5 billion more than the company predicted in June 2016.

Shell’s move is the latest evidence that big oil companies are recovering from a lengthy oil-market downturn and see oil prices stabilizing after years of volatility.

Norway’s Statoil ASA announced its own plans to do away with its scrip dividend program, while BP PLC, is restarting a share buyback program in an effort to sweeten the pot for investors.

Shell’s share price was up almost 2% in early trading in London after the Anglo-Dutch oil-and-gas company announced a planned share-buyback program of $25 billion between 2017 and 2020, write Riva Gold and Ese Erheriene.