A Tough Row to Hoe

A
ll seemed hunky-dory. The air was suffused with a sanguine current cascading through the markets and rallying up the prices touching a year-high of $53.73. Saudi Arabia aims to cut 2%-4% of total production and Russia also says that it will drain some 700,000 bpd. But the whole scenario was tinged with a shadow of askance.

Soon after Russia said that she is ready to cut production, Rosneft’s boss put a check on the growing positivism by infusing uncertainty into the air. He said that we will not participate in this cut or freeze program.

Few days back when Saudi Arabia and Non-OPEC members met in Vienna in order to mull upon the minutiae as preparation for the final November 30th deal. There is almost a whole month to go before the world see what might happen on that very day. But before it I would like to veer the reader’s attention towards some of the stones that the OPEC and Non-OPEC producers have to turn in their way to reach at their destination.

A Look at Fundamentals- Figures and facts tend to depict a picture that is not corrupted by subjectivity, sentiments and speculations. International Energy Agency in its last oil market report give us a peek into the latest trends. “Global oil supply rose by 0.6 mb/d in September, with non-OPEC up nearly 0.5 mb/d on higher Russian and Kazakh flows and OPEC at an all-time high”. Also, “due to OPEC growth” the world supply tumefied to 97.2 mbpd- a 0.2%increase. The rig count, calculated by Baker and Hughes (of-late, engaged in a merger with GE), has been rising for 17 weeks only to fall by 2 in the past one (ending October 28th) making the total rig count 441. The EIA states that the US production has fallen only 0.10% . The inventory level, as per American based EIA, has seen a huge build-up of 14 million barrels for week ending October 28 sending crude 3% low. The aforesaid is a kaleidoscopic picture imbued with a numerical color. Some good and some bad news.

Exemptions and Excuses- First it was only Iran now another country stands in the queue to receive the largesse of exemption from any sort of cut or freeze. The new country is Iraq. OPEC’s second largest producer says that it should be exonerated from any production cut as it needs cash to fight the balaclava wearing IS terrorists. Iran, with an unwavering stance, rejects any notion of curtailing its production by abducing a simple argument: after years of sanctions its pulverulent pumping jacks are now waggling the dust off and it will be a pure folly to halt its production. Libya is another contender waiting to be absolved. Nigeria hit by the recent spate of attacks by Niger Delta Avengers too. And both are in no mood to curb. Nigeria’s output is reaching to its pre-crisis level as pointed out by Nigerian oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe. Its Trans Niger Pipeline has also resumed operation. Libya, since September, has ramped up its production to 590,000 bpd. This puts the onus on Saud Arabia and Russia. The latter one also seems dubious for, albeit said to participate in the deal, the figures in their budget finds itself in a contradiction as they aim to extract more than 11mbpd in the coming year(s). Last month KSA’s production also broke the ceiling when it touched an all-time high of 33.6mbpd. Certainly, not a good recipe to heal the markets.

Agreement- Let’s assume the best of scenarios. At the table, Mr. Khalid Al-Falih stands up and sprinkles the words that send a wave of relief and a smile among his interlocutors. “We have decided to cut production”, he heralds with a sense of far-sightedness and sensibility deeming himself as the sailor who seem to take pride to steer away the Saudi boat away from the whirlpool of economic pressures that has caused a dent in one of the top 20 biggest economies of the world. Russia follows and Mr. Putin reverberate the same. Gasps. Some flabbergasted. Some happy. The markets revel. All back to normal (normal will now be $60-$70). An uncannily prosperous picture, indeed. But the question then swims from this sea of mirth and start to surface on the level i.e. how long will this deal hold? Russia has recently bought Essar oil company which gives it control in one of the biggest and burgeoning market of the world i.e. India. The Kashagan oil field has started oozing out black gold and it will further contribute to the current supply glut. There is no demand as the Paris based IEA also said in its October oil market report that the demand has further slowed down. China, the main driving force behind the demand, is tepid. Also, the metamorphosis of a cut into quotas can also be witnessed. “The High Level Committee of experts will meet again in Vienna on Nov. 25 ahead of the next meeting of OPEC ministers on Nov. 30, to "finalize individual quotas". Again quoting IEA Non OPEC supply is expected to increase by 0.4mbpd in 2017.

Mr. Fereydoun Barkehsli, Advisor of the Institute of International Energy Studies and Head of Vienna Energy Center in response to the question that what might be the issues impeding Nov. 30th deal, says: “Saudi Arabia was OPEC Swing producer for several years. The Kingdom was Quota-free under the condition that once market was under-supplied or over-supplied, Saudi Arabia would adjust its supply accordingly and an official price level would be maintained. But as crude oil prices plummeted during 1984-85 Mr. Zaki Yamani who was then Kingdom's oil minister officially announced that his country could not cut down production any longer to maintain price and asked for production quota. Since then Saudi Arabia has persistently asked for pro-rata cut by all members. Iran is not the only member who is unhappy about cutting production, but all members who have already reached their production peak do not want to cut, because once demand and price was on the rise, Saudi Arabia got most of the market share ergo the dissent of other members. Russia and non-OPEC producers have a different story of their own. Russia has consistently jumped over OPEC shoulders and benefited from the organizations higher demand and price and never contributed towards OPEC sacrifices. I believe in 30 November's Ministerial conference in Vienna the organization will have to fight at two fronts. Moscow is, behind the scenes, lobbying with Venezuela and Iran for exemption but neither of them is supportive of giant non-OPEC producer.”

Osama Rizvi

Independent economic analyst, Writer and Editor

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