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IN BRIEF

VIENNA

OPEC official expects output to stay steady

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is set to hold current production levels unchanged at a meeting this week as it continues to gauge the state of the global economy, the head of Libya’s oil industry said Sunday.

“It seems as though things are going to be as is,” said Shokri Ghanem, head of Libyan oil policy and Chief Executive of Libya’s National Oil Co.

Ghanem also said OPEC will discuss the ongoing dispute between Venezuela and oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp., saying it was possible there could be an official pronouncement from the cartel on the issue.

“We will discuss it,” he told reporters in the Austrian capital.

Exxon and Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, are entangled in a legal dispute over President Hugo Chavez’s move to nationalize a multibillion dollar oil project in the Orinoco basin last summer, which prompted the Irving, Texas, oil giant to leave the country.

As it pursues twin arbitration cases internationally, Exxon has secured court orders freezing more than $12 billion in PdVSA assets worldwide to ensure payment,a move Chavez calls a political affront. Venezuela has responded by cutting off spot market oil sales to Exxon.

Oil ministers from the 13-member oil-producer group, which supplies four out of 10 barrels of world oil consumption, meet March 5 to discuss output policy against the contrasting factors of scorching record high prices and weakening demand.

WASHINGTON

Banks not revealing fee data, report says

Banks are failing to provide consumers with information about fees on savings and checking accounts even though federal rules require such disclosures, according to a government report to be released today.

The report by the Government Accountability Office also says that some of the invisible fees have climbed substantially in recent years. The average overdraft fee, for instance, increased 11 percent from 2000 to 2007.

GAO staff members made undercover visits to 185 branches of 154 depository institutions throughout the country and were unable to get comprehensive lists of checking and savings account fees at more than a one-fifth of the locations. The information was not available on the Web sites of half of the institutions.

The undercover workers were also unable to obtain account terms and conditions, such as information on when deposited funds are accessible and how overdrafts are handled, at one-third of the branches visited.

Federal rules require uniform disclosure of fees and interest rates. From 2002 to 2006, regulators cited financial institutions 1,674 times for violations of fee-related disclosures, the report says. That’s about 335 annually among the 17,000 institutions regulators oversee. They took formal enforcement action in only two cases because most of the banks “took corrective actions during the course of the examination or shortly thereafter,” the report says.

Eric Halperin, director of the Washington office of the Center for Responsible Lending, said the GAO report was consistent with the center’s studies, which have found that consumers are getting increasingly hit with overdraft fees. He said banks are automatically covering customers’ shortfalls and levying a hefty fee rather than rejecting debit card transactions that exceed the customers’ balances.

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