If protesters, now or in the future, are looking to bring additional pressure onto the ruling elites and the security forces, they will have to either coopt some segment of both or target the sources of their power and revenue, including the oil sector. It seems a long fuse has been lit.
Wall Street Journal–December 13, 2017
Officials urge international offering for Aramco, rather than selling a stake to Beijing, which they fear would boost its standing in Middle East
The deal with OPEC has lifted oil prices, liquidated a global oil glut, and paid dividends in the form of improved relations with Saudi Arabia, boosting Russia’s real and perceived influence in the Middle East.
Hydrocarbon Engineering–November 9, 2017
Russian refiners will increase production of transport fuels by 110 000 bpd next year, according to ESAI Energy’s recently published ‘CIS Watch One-Year Outlook.’
Over the last few days, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, has arrested or detained individuals
under the charge of corruption. Yet, these efforts are intended to consolidate his power before he becomes
King. Perhaps this consolidation is essential to the successful execution of his Vision 2030, but it does fly in
the face of projecting a transparent, increasingly liberal economy worthy of foreign investment.
King Salman is the last of the Sudairi Seven to rule Saudi Arabia before the next generation (grandsons of King Abdulaziz ibn Saud) takes power. If Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, ascends the throne in the next one to two years, he will rule – absent medical issues or political upheaval – for decades. This will include the period when judgment will be rendered on his Vision 2030 for diversification of the Saudi economy. The oil market’s focus on the Saudi Aramco IPO and its perceived connection to Saudi oil policy should be seen within the context of larger issues related to internal stability.
On Thursday, President Trump will make a speech on Iran in which he is expected to not certify that Iran is in compliance with the Nuclear Deal, as required every 90 days. This will give the Congress 60 days to take up the issue of putting sanctions back in place. At this juncture, a return to the status quo ante “the Deal” is impossible given the positions of the other P5+1 countries. But, Congress may take other steps to turn up the heat on Iran.
The autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq voted for independence last week in a resounding – but non-binding – referendum. Baghdad has dismissed the vote. Turkey and Iran, with large Kurdish populations themselves, have threatened a blockade. Turkey’s threat to shut the Kirkuk-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline puts Kurdistan’s nearly 600,000 b/d of crude exports at risk. Ongoing tensions have already encouraged a temporary run-up in Brent prices, and will keep a small geopolitical premium on the price of crude.
Even as President Trump continues to oppose the Nuclear deal with Iran, we expect him to certify the Nuclear Accord on October 15th (i.e., keep it as is) while increasing pressure on Iran in other ways. But certification comes up every 90 days, so this will be an ongoing issue.
Saudi denial of oil tankers entering a Yemeni port brought the Yemeni conflict to the fore in the oil sector. While the oil implications are negligible, the movement of the conflict towards the sea raises the potential for an accidental incident leading to direct conflict between the Saudi coalition and Iran, and the U.S.
The Syrian ceasefire agreed by Russia and the U.S. could lead to a stabilization of some portions of Syria and reduce the chances of direct clashes between Russian and American aircraft, but it does not appear that enough of the important factions are currently satisfied with their positions to lay the groundwork for a larger, negotiated settlement.
This is more than a diplomatic row among GCC members. Perhaps emboldened by President Trump’s visit, Saudi Arabia and its allies have declared if you are with Iran (or specific radical Sunni groups), you are against us. This effort to delineate sides in the region cannot be easily reversed without substantial outside pressure. Expect a geopolitical premium to creep into energy prices as this dispute continues.
OPEC is very much alive, and has just extended its production restraint through the rest of 2017 and the
first quarter of 2018, improving the outlook for 2017 and maybe even 2018.
The decision by Saudi Arabia, Russia and ostensibly the rest of OPEC to extend the production cut through the first quarter of 2018 is not a surprise, except for the addition of the first quarter of 2018. Extending through early 2018 signals that the producers understand the magnitude of the challenge. Whether they rise to the challenge depends on their success this summer. OPEC needs to do as much as possible now to temper the surplus coming in the first quarter.
In the realm of international relations and U.S. foreign policy, an integrated Europe allied to the U.S. is seen as a plus for concerted action to counteract instability in regions such as the Middle East, North Africa and even the Balkans. The election of independent, centrist, Emmanuel Macron, to the French Presidency over the weekend was a clear victory for Integrated Europe as Macron ran on a pro-Europe platform.