Bloomberg Gadfly’s Liam Denning argues that the second scenario is the only one that could work for low-cost producers such as Saudi Arabia. Enough with the comments about a new extension, Denning suggests, nobody is listening. A U-turn in Saudi oil policy, according to him, is the only way to survive. Yet there is a catch in Denning’s scenario.
He says, “The rational thing to do would be for large, low-cost producers such as Saudi Arabia to maximize output and drive oil prices down to a level that both stops the flow of capital into U.S. fracking and spurs demand for more barrels.
That’s dreamland for any low-cost oil producer, but how do you find it? Oil demand forecasts from the International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration alike don’t see a lot of support for a sharp growth in demand. On the contrary – as Denning himself notes, the factors that will slow oil demand growth further are growing, chief among them the switch to electric vehicles.
It may be true that experts are no longer paying much attention to what this or that energy minister from the Vienna Group says about deal extensions. Media do, however, and diligently report on every such comment despite the fact that the discussion Novak was referring to in his latest remark took place in July and can hardly be considered news. The Russian minister has, since the start of negotiations of the cut, said that all options are on the table. They still are, is what he said this week. No surprises.
But Russia and Saudi Arabia were pushing for this second extension, the Wall Street Journal reported late last month, citing unnamed sources familiar with the discussion. Russia seems to be feeling jut fine with current oil prices. Customs data this week showed that revenues from crude oil exports had jumped by 35 percent over the first seven months of the year. Novak said the current price level of Brent, at US$54 a barrel, is “optimal”, allowing the industry to make investments in new production while keeping prices at the pump affordable.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is revising its Vision 2030, as it turns out the initial goals set in the program were a bit too ambitious. The Kingdom is also preparing for the listing of Aramco, which could literally make or break Vision 2030. The program is costly and Saudi Arabia has a budget deficit to deal with besides the long-term diversification.
There’s hardly any doubt that Saudi Arabia and Russia are the leaders of the pack when it comes to the cut deal. They’ve been forging closer ties in recent months, and not only in energy. Yet they don’t exactly want the same thing when it comes to oil. Russia is a higher-cost producer than Saudi Arabia, so it will have more trouble if prices fall sharply. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is more heavily reliant on oil revenues for its budget than Russia— any oil revenues—not to mention that Riyadh has cut more of its output than Moscow.
A projection from energy economist Phil Verleger, as quoted by Denning, sees low-cost OPEC producers—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Iran—losing 9 percentage points from their market share if the artificial propping up of prices continues until 2022. Russia’s share under this scenario will remain virtually unchanged, and that of the United States and other non-OPEC producers will rise.
Turning the taps back on indeed starts to look like the only thing left to do, as long as those turning them are ready to bear the consequences, which could include bankruptcies (think Venezuela), unrest at home, and the breakup of OPEC, most likely. This last one, if it happens, means other deals to control the supply of the world’s most popular commodity will become a lot harder to reach should the need arise.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com