Time for all oil producers to go beyond the talk
IN a market looking for clearer guidance, the major oil producers of the world are busy sending mixed signals, which are leaving crude prices in limbo. The cost of a barrel of crude soared 7 per cent a week ago after Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that Opec and non-Opec countries are considering a 5 per cent output cut across the board. Novak cautioned that it is too early to call anything concrete, but there seems to be a willingness to build a solid floor to support a price recovery. That same day, a senior Gulf source told me that regional players are "willing to do anything to stabilise the markets" and added, rather surprisingly for those of us who cover the inner workings of Opec, "all options are on the table".
Implementation of an across-the-board cut is clearly easier said than done. The task of rounding up all the players is down at this stage to Eulogio Del Pino, Venezuela's new Minister of Petroleum and President of state oil giant PDVSA. This week he visited Russia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to see if there's support for an emergency meeting. But this is also being discussed at the highest levels of government at the same time. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Abu Dhabi to jump-start the Syria peace process and talk about the state of oil with His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces .Lavrov said there is cooperation on oil with countries inside and outside of Opec, and that a formal meeting could be called "if everyone wants it". If one goes back to the CNN panel at Davos two weeks ago called ' The New Energy Equation', the Chairman of Saudi Aramco used what could be called a "carrot and stick" approach. Khalid Al Falih started off by saying, "We are not going to accept to withdraw our production to make space for others," which was a pointed reference to regional rival Iran, who is eager to add a million barrels a day of production by the end of this year. He also bluntly stated that with the lowest cost production in the world, the kingdom could live with low oil prices "for a long, long time".
But during the same session, Al Falih concurred with my senior Gulf source and said, "If there are short term adjustments that need to be made and if other producers are willing to collaborate, Saudi Arabia will also be willing to collaborate."Those I spoke to on background wanted to make it crystal clear that the idea of a 5 per cent cut is not a proposal wrote by Saudi Arabia, but that the Kingdom would not stand in the way of a deal. So the multi billion-dollar question is where does that leave us today? Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs, which has been one of the most bearish firms when it comes market oversupply, said it's too late for the major players to save oil.Goldman believes that with the overproduction currently in place, about one and a half million barrels a day, North Sea Brent will bust through the recent 13-year low of some $26 a barrel. The head of the International Monetary Fund is one who said she is losing sleep over that scenario. Christine Lagarde suggested there are quite a few countries that will suffer in the near term due to an over reliance on crude exports. Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Azerbaijan and Nigeria make up a handful of countries that stand out for all the wrong economic reasons. The final two on that list have already welcomed international lenders like the IMF and World Bank to explore borrowing options to plug holes in their budgets.
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN this week, "Venezuela is about to go belly up, not only politically, but economically." There is a market consensus forming that believes the Saudi-wrote strategy will work, but that it will take a year longer than originally anticipated. A half million barrels of US production came off the market in 2015 and I have seen estimates of up to another 900,000 barrels being knocked out this year. At the same time, consultancy Wood Mackenzie said that 27 billion barrels of projects worth nearly $400 billion have already been cancelled. Signalled out in the cancellations were major deepwater investments in Angola, Nigeria and the Gulf of Mexico. Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, said he was preparing his country for what he called a "post-oil era" in about 20 years, but clearly it has arrived early.