Following last Thursday’s announcement by OPEC that the cartel would maintain its present oil production levels, prices of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude closed at $66.15 per barrel on Friday. In early trading Monday, the U.S. benchmark hit a low of $63.72 per barrel. But as trading continued, WTI climbed back to $67.65 and held in the $67.50 range in subsequent morning trading.
Brent crude fell to a low of $70.15 on Friday, slipping to $67.59 then recovering to $71.51 in early trading on Monday. The European benchmark was trading around $71 per barrel mid-morning, U.S. time.
But OPEC’s decision to continue production and export levels brings geopolitical risk to its members, according to some experts. “If the governments aren’t able to spend to keep the kids off the streets they will go back to the streets, and we could start to see political disruption and upheaval,” Paul Stevens, distinguished fellow for energy, environment and resources at Chatham House in London, told Bloomberg. “The majority of members of OPEC need well over $100 a barrel to balance their budgets. If they start cutting expenditure, this is likely to cause problems,” Stevens said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates can break even at $70 a barrel, whereas Iran needs $136, and Venezuela and Nigeria need $120.
Non-OPEC members are shuffling the cards as well. Russia needs $101 per barrel to break even, the IMF report said. “Russia has already lost almost $90 billion of its currency reserves this year, equal to 4.5 percent of its economy, as it tried to prevent the ruble from tumbling after Western countries imposed sanctions to punish Russian meddling in Ukraine. The ruble is down 35 percent against the dollar since June,” Bloomberg reported.
Daniel Yergin, Vice Chairman of IHS Inc., wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal yesterday entitled “The Global Shakeout From Plunging Oil; new supply—rather than demand—is dominating the market, and OPEC has been caught by surprise.” In his article Mr. Yergin attributes the new paradigm in global oil to U.S. and Canadian producers: “…the surge in U.S. oil production, bolstered by additional new supply from Canada, is decisive. This surge is on a scale that most oil exporters had not anticipated. The turmoil in prices, with spasmodic plunges over the past few days, will likely continue. … If prices remain close to their current level, OPEC members will likely come together again to reassess the market…,” Yergin believes.
Falling Prices Good for China, but some OPEC Members Show Concern
As news of OPECs decision not to cut production sent oil prices down yet again, China stands poised to take advantage of the situation. The nation’s efforts to boost reserves may increase its imports by as much as 700,000 BOPD in 2015, according to London-based Energy Aspects Ltd., reports Bloomberg. That is more than half the global glut forecast by Citigroup Inc. after OPEC refrained from cutting output at its meeting last week.
“This is a golden time window to acquire more strategic oil stockpiles at lower costs,” Gordon Kwan, the Hong Kong based head of regional oil and gas research at Nomura Holdings Inc., wrote in an email November 28. China will be “a big beneficiary” from the OPEC decision, he said.
Even as China looks to benefit from low global oil prices, OPEC’s own members voice deep concerns over the current levels of production. Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said the “shock therapy” of a steep drop in crude prices is no solution for OPEC’s loss of market share to U.S. shale producers, reports Bloomberg.
Prices at this lower level are no guarantee of a significant reduction in U.S. shale output, Zanganeh said in an interview in Tehran on November 28. “High prices are a disadvantage to OPEC’s market share. If you want to increase your share, you have to reduce prices, but you can’t do it through ‘shock therapy’ over the course of three months if you want to change everything.”
Last week, CIBC’s Katherine Spector, head of commodities strategy at CIBC World Markets, spoke to Oil & Gas 360® about some of the possible outcomes from the pending OPEC meeting. Today Spector discussed OPEC’s decision to maintain production levels with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg’s Bottom Line.
At the time of posting, WTI is trading at $68.56; Brent at $72.24.
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