Over the weekend, a group of non-OPEC oil producing countries, including Russia and Mexico, announced they will pare their collective crude oil output by 500,000 daily barrels. About 60% of the total reduction will come from Russia.
On hearing that, Saudi Arabia said it would reduce its liftings by more than its already-promised 486,000 daily barrels. The kingdom didn’t specify an amount, however–and the wording of its statement suggests the number will be small.
Nevertheless, the combined declarations have been enough to raise the price of oil in commodity trading by about 5% today, and 10% in total.
To put these figures into perspective, world crude production is around 98 million barrels per day. So we’re talking about less than a 2% reduction in total output.
for oil producing countries
In one sense, the agreements have already been a financial success for the countries involved. For most, they’ll reduce future output by, say, 2% and are already receiving 10% more for the 98% they are still selling. That combination brings in 8% more dollars.
On the other hand, a $50+ price per barrel gives new life to shale oil producers in the US. All to that that a fracking-friendly administration in Washington and the likelihood is that crude oil output from the US will begin to rise rapidly next year, offsetting at least some of the near-term output reductions now being achieved.
For us the situation is not so clear.
–Oil exploration and development companies in the US have already risen substantially on the original OPEC cutback announcement
–We’re also only about six weeks away from the beginning of the seasonally weakest part of the year for oil. Crude oil bought in late January can’t be refined into heating oil and delivered to retail customers before the winter is over. The driving season doesn’t begin in earnest until April. So demand for the two principal refined products will be at a low ebb from January – March. Soft demand usually translates into weaker crude prices.
–At some point, we’ll begin to see US crude output pickup
–The promised output cuts won’t take effect until the new year, so it’s impossible to find countries cheating on their output reduction pledges today. The history of all commodity cartels tells us, however, that cheating will happen. And if past is prologue, evidence of cheating will trigger a substantial price decline.
So we can reasonably expect a substantial bump in the crude-can-only-go-up-from-here road shortly.
Although I’m not doing anything at the moment, my reaction to all this is that I’m closer to being a seller of oil exploration firms than a buyer. If I had a relatively large position (I don’t. I only own one e&p stock), I’d be trimming it today, with an eye to possibly buying back in late January.