After an oil market development that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, oil prices remain low, even two weeks after an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil production infrastructure, which knocked out around 60% of the kingdom’s oil production capacity. Saudi Arabia is the world’s third largest oil producer after the US and Russia but maintains its role as the OPEC defacto leader and the world’s largest oil exporter. Both Russia and Saudi Arabia are the largest oil exporters to China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, home to more than half of global oil consumption.
In early trading on Monday, prices for global oil benchmark London-traded Brent crude futures were up, rebounding from a down turn on Friday and a two week low. Brent crude futures rose 21 cents, or 0.3%, to $62.12 a barrel on Monday, having dipped as low as $60.76 a barrel on Friday when prices fell 1.3%.
Lower oil prices come amid continued worries over the more than year-long trade war between the US and China and weakened global oil demand forecasts due to the impact of the trade conflict. This new dynamic of global oil markets, shaking off what would have been the elephant in the room in past years, is largely attributed to the US shale oil and gas boom. The US is now producing more than 12 million barrels per day of oil and has also decreased its reliance on Saudi crude imports, though it still imports crude from the region since most American refineries are configured to process medium to heavier crude blends, while most US oil production is light or even ultra-light, sweet (low Sulphur crude).
Despite US production remaining a hedge against what would other wise likely be a run up in global oil prices of 30-40%, the Saudis are still talking about worst case scenarios.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman warned on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world does not come together to deter Iran but said he would prefer a political solution to a military one.
However, unless there is a major military conflict between Iran and the US-Saudi Alliance and unless the Saudis again suffer another major attack that knocks out around half its oil production, global oil markets seemed to have already priced in the new geopolitical reality that Saudi Arabia’s long-storied oil production apparatus is more vulnerable that most originally thought.
The largest issue, already mentioned, is when (or even if) the US and China can come to terms over trade, intellectual property rights and other differences. On that note, it’s anybody’s guess when President Trump will agree to a trade war truce. Increasing pressure over the Democratic lead impeachment process could force the president’s hand to call for a trade war deal to offset this politically charged move and give him an early win as the 2020 presidential election cycle kicks in. On the other hand, the president might continue to press his attack against Beijing, wagering that he will nonetheless win reelection in 2020, which would strengthen his hand even more both domestically and internationally.