Update: as expected, it did not take long for Iran – which has the most to lose from any Saudi output hike which would not only send the price of oil lower but also allow Riyadh to capture Iran’s sanctioned market share – to respond, and moments ago Bloomberg reported that in an interview with Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, Iran’s OPEC governor, he said that “if Saudi Arabia accepts U.S. President Donald Trump’s request to boost output, that means he is calling on them to walk out from OPEC.“
“We are 15 countries in an agreement. Set aside that they do not have the capacity, there is no way one country could go 2 million b/d above their production allocation unless they are walking out of OPEC.”
Well, if they don’t have the capacity (which they do), there is no reason to be concerned. And yet Iran is precisely that, and considering that Trump said Saudi Arabia has “agreed” to his demand, we may have just witnessed the end of OPEC.
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Earlier this week, when within minutes of each other, news hit last Tuesday that first Saudi Arabia would boost production to a record 10.8mmb/d, an increase of nearly 1 million barrels per day from the Kingodm’s current 10.03mmb/d output…
… only to be followed almost immediately by a warning from the State Department advising US allies of a crackdown on Iran, and demanding they cut their Iranian oil exports to 0 by the Nov. 4 deadline, oil first dipped then spiked, as the market weighed the news of the potential drop in Iranian production far more than any potential Saudi output: after all that was already largely priced in during last weekend’s OPEC summit.
As we said then, “the confluence of these two reports, first sent the price of oil sliding on the Saudi report, followed by a modest boost on the Iran news, thereby assuring more angry tweets from the president.“
More angry tweets were guaranteed because since last Tuesday the price of oil has continued to rise, with WTI hitting a fresh 4 year high while Brent is back to $80/barrel.
Sure enough, the “angry tweet” finally came on Saturday morning, when in his 3rd direct address to either OPEC or Saudi Arabia on Twitter, the president said he asked Saudi Arabia to significantly boost its oil production to bring down crude prices.
“Just spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and explained to him that, because of the turmoil & disfunction in Iran and Venezuela, I am asking that Saudi Arabia increase oil production, maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels, to make up the difference…Prices to high! He has agreed!.” (sic)
While it wasn’t clear whether Trump was saying the king agreed that prices were too high or to increase output, clearly the Saudi monarch wanted to placate Trump and get him off the line as soon as possible. The WSJ said that a representative of the Saudi government wasn’t immediately available to comment early Saturday.
Saudi Arabia is already boosting production, having agreed after last weekend’s OPEC summit to scale back compliance with output cuts that have been in place since the end of 2016. According to Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih indicated, OPEC would add nearly 1 million barrels a day to the market (although other OPEC states disagreed over the “real” boost, with Iran claiming it would be no more than 500kb/d).
As Bloomberg adds, if Saudi Arabia were to concede to Trump’s request, while it would likely send the price of oil sliding – if only briefly – it would also stretch the world’s spare production capacity to the limit, meaning that any supply outage could have an outsized effect on oil prices.
A Saudi concession would also further aggravate other OPEC members, such as Iran and Venezuela, which had sought to prevent any increase as OPEC and Russia: Venezuela is fighting hyperinflation and is scrambling to keep the price of oil as high as possible, and while Iran is not quite there, it is fast approaching an economic crisis as well, and is therefore in dire need of both higher prices and not losing market share to Saudi Arabia.
The irony behind all this, of course, is that it is Trump’s own crackdown against Iran, and his renewed sanctions against Tehran’s oil production that is the main reason behind the oil and gas price surge (an outcome we previewed back in late 2016 in “Will Trump Send The Price Of Oil Soaring?”).
And it is the realization that surging gas prices threaten to undo the positive impact of Trump’s fiscal stimulus and tax cuts and cripple the US economy as consumers are forced to spend more money on gas and less on discretionary purchases, as explained previously, that has spooked the president forcing him to demand increasingly more “favors” from Saudi Arabia.
Brent topped $80 a barrel on May 17, the highest level since November 2014. It closed Friday at $79.44: $80 Brent has also emerged as a “red line” for Trump, around which the president starts lashing out at OPEC and Saudi Arabia on twitter and elsewhere.
It is unclear of Trump will order an accelerated liquidation from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if Saudi Arabia drags its feet in boosting output further and if prices remain high, although many have suggested this may be the next step.
The bigger strategic problem for Trump is that between Saudi Arabia and Russia pumping at near capacity, it puts the US at the mercy not only of Riyadh but also of, drumroll, Moscow which – in light of the imminent release of the Mueller report – is the last place the president would like to find himself. After all, should Russia decide to slash production indefinitely by 1, 2mmb/d or more, watch as gas prices in the US explode.
Finally, if oil prices were to drop as Trump desires, it would also drag energy stocks lower – which have emerged as one of the very few resilient sectors propping up the market – and slam the market, at which point Trump may start demanding Saudi Arabia cut production once again….
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