Round 2: Trump Vs. OPEC

With oil prices having staged a recovery during the first quarter of 2019, primarily due to the withholding of oil supplies from Saudi Arabia, President Trump has once again entered the oil market as a threat. Not since OPEC’s founding in 1960 has an American president been as vocal or involved as Trump.

Trump’s intervention in “Round 1,” summarized below, shocked the market, causing a massive price collapse. However, with close scrutiny of the president’s views, both before taking office and over the past year, the market should not have been so surprised.

Saudi Arabia is in a delicate position. On the one hand, it needs oil prices in the $80s to support it's country’s budget, even if lifting costs are $10 or less. It also knows that a “high price” is not the best price longer-term, due to cutbacks in demand and the increasing availability of substitutes, such as U.S. shale.

But possibly most importantly, it depends on the U.S. for its security. And looking forward, it wants U.S. investment to help diversify its economy as the oil age wanes.

Simply put, it cannot afford to ignore this U.S. president, whose first international trip was to KSA. There is an important political and economic link to the U.S. that it did not have even one president ago (Obama). And its arch-nemesis, Iran, at the same time is being severely harassed by President Trump. Continue reading "Round 2: Trump Vs. OPEC"

Moment of Truth Approaching on Iran Sanctions

OPEC’s market monitoring committee met on September 23rd to assess conditions just about six weeks before new U.S. Iran sanctions go into effect, targeting Iran’s oil sector. Buyers and sellers are in the process of finalizing their loading programs for November, and so this assessment is of particular importance as to the question of whether oil supplies will be adequate once those sanctions go into effect.

The market focused on the lack of public discussion of President Trump’s demand on Twitter last Thursday for OPEC to increase supplies to get prices down:

"We protect the countries of the Middle East, they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices! We will remember. The OPEC monopoly must get prices down now!"

However, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih was quoted as saying, "Our plan is to respond to demand. If demand [for Saudi crude] is 10.9 million b/d you can certainly take it to the bank that we will meet it. But the demand is 10.5 million b/d or 10.6 million b/d. I think October will be more than this."

Iran Sanctions
Source: AFP

In a more recent news story, it was reported that Saudi Arabia and its allies discussed adding 500,000 b/d to supply. Saudi Aramco plans to add 550,000 b/d of new capacity in the Khurais and Manifa oilfields in the fourth quarter of 2018. Continue reading "Moment of Truth Approaching on Iran Sanctions"

Oil Market Scenarios And Risks: 4Q18

Major uncertainties loom toward the end of the year when sanctions are currently scheduled to go into effect by the U.S. regarding Iran. The range of potential outcomes is large, as it is possible that a deal may be reached with Iran which avoids sanctions (Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a speech Sunday did not rule out peace between the U.S. and Iran), or Iran increases its exports to China and India, offsetting decreases to European countries. But the base case should assume some loss, on the order of 600,000 b/d.

President Trump has a few policy options to manage the size of the loss:

  • Pressuring the Saudis and other Gulf producers to maximize their output
  • Granting waivers so that more exports can flow
  • Ordering drawdowns of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, potentially coordinated with the International Energy Agency

But Iran’s production is not the only risk. Venezuela’s production is in a meltdown and production may drop to just one million barrels per day by the end of the year. Whether it could stabilize at that level is an open question and is sure to provide a risk premium to oil futures prices.

I created three scenarios to develop a range of likely global inventory levels and future oil prices. The base case “demand for OPEC crude” is from OPEC’s own July Monthly Oil Market Report. In all three scenarios, I assume production in Venezuela drops to one million barrels per day (mmbd) by 1Q19 and stabilizes there. I also assume that Saudi production rises to 11 mmbd and remains at that level and production increases in the UAE and Kuwait. Continue reading "Oil Market Scenarios And Risks: 4Q18"