A lot has been going on with the commodity markets lately, so we decided that this week it’s high time we revisited one of the key topics on the financial markets – crude oil.
Objectively speaking, it is still too early to talk about the end of the oil glut that has been pestering investors since 2015. Tensions have eased off the previously oversupplied market for oil, and prices managed to surpass the important psychological level of $60 per barrel this week, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remain alert, as analysts say the market is yet to be balanced.
The price of oil was boosted in recent weeks because of a decrease of oil rigs in operation in the United States (and partly because of hurricane damage to key oil drilling areas). Another factor was the Kurdish conflicts in Iraq and Turkey, which also led to decrease exports from the region, allowing the price of oil to stabilize above $50 per barrel. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether the United States will keep their heads down or if they would up shale oil extraction, which is what won them their game of chicken versus OPEC in 2015 and 2016. The lower production costs of shale oil permitted the US to stay profitable even as record low oil prices were causing OPEC tons of trouble back then, leading OPEC to sign an agreement that they will cut down their oil production and exports for a prolonged period of time. As for Iraq, they have upped their exports in order to offset the decreases a few weeks back, which caused a small drop in the price of oil. So in terms of geopolitical conflicts in Iraq, as well as the policies of the United States regarding oil, there is still a lot of uncertainty.
What is more interesting in this case is OPEC, more specifically their leader, Saudi Arabia. Oil prices soared to two-and-a-half year highs this week as news broke that the ruling Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his anti-corruption committee made a large number of arrests or important officials and members of the royal family. The supposedly guilty parties are now held at the Ritz Carlton hotel, which has been fully booked for this purpose at least until February 2018, according to CNN. The people who were arrested are being accused of different degrees of financial fraud and embezzlement, reportedly worth at least 100 billion USD. The Prince has also had their bank accounts frozen and further inspections are under way.
This all sounds like political unrest, so why is the oil price increasing? The answer lies in the crowned Prince himself: bin Salman is a supporter of reforms. He is known as someone who wishes to see the Saudi economy become less resource-dependent, so that shifts in the price of oil would not affect its GDP so dramatically. He has also worked for the modernization of Saudi Arabia in other ways, and is a champion of the OPEC policy to reduce oil extraction and rebalance the market. In terms of a stable market for crude oil, Prince bin Salman is the person you would want to see in charge. After these high-profile arrests, he appears to have consolidated his power, which is good news for the oil price.
Furthermore, there is another OPEC meeting coming up on November 30 in Vienna, Austria. Considering that OPEC’s agreement to scale back its oil business is set to expire in a few months, it is largely expected that during this meeting the oil-exporting countries will vote on an extension. This policy has been quite successful at bringing oil prices up, and has even been copied by non-OPEC states, such as Russia. Due to how well it is working and the fact that Prince bin Salman is likely to get things his way, analysts are hopeful that OPEC will continue with its plan into 2018 and see oil prices rise to their pre-2015 levels.