Slugcatcher on the threat of an oil-price war as Russia targets the US

HANG on to your hats because Slugcatcher reckons the world is on the edge of a destructive oil-price war which could see a plunge back to US$30 a barrel, and perhaps less.
Slugcatcher on the threat of an oil-price war as Russia targets the US Slugcatcher on the threat of an oil-price war as Russia targets the US Slugcatcher on the threat of an oil-price war as Russia targets the US Slugcatcher on the threat of an oil-price war as Russia targets the US Slugcatcher on the threat of an oil-price war as Russia targets the US

Price war ramps up as US presidential election starts

Slugcatcher

The breakdown of weekend talks between Russia and members of OPEC over whether to make more production cuts to cope with a steep demand decline has set the scene for a "land grab" a stampede by major producers for market-share.
 
In fact, it could be worse than a competition to sell oil at a time of declining demand because there is mounting speculation that the cause of the failed plan to cut production is a Russian plan to "weaponise" oil in its never-ending feud with the US.
 
According to reports from Vienna, home of OPEC and site of the weekend meeting, Saudi Arabia was keen on another round of production cuts to try and prop up the price.
 
Russia, which had been expected to support the Saudi plan, not only opposed more cuts it argued that existing cuts should be removed and all oil producers allowed to open the spigots.
 
We've been here before when it was OPEC which thought it could kill the upstart US shale-oil producers who had flooded the world market with their revolutionary (but high cost) production techniques.
 
Those past efforts to kill shale failed and there's no reason to believe another shot at the US producers will work this time.
 
But there is a difference.
 
This time it's more than a business maneuver. Its more political than ever, which is saying a lot because oil has always been political, and it's got a whiff of the Cold War about it as Russia and the US face off in an oil-world equivalent of a wild-west gunfight.
 
How the game plays out from the start of business this week will be interesting to watch and profoundly significant for every oil and gas producer in the world.
 
Australia will not escape what could be a period of turmoil with two big LNG projects (Scarborough and Browse) edging closer to final investment decisions with a positive result heavily dependent on confidence at the highest level of the project proponents that oil is not about to crash.
 
The price of LNG is, to some degree, separate from the oil price, though ultimately it's the oil price which sets the price of every other form of energy - including coal and renewables -- a factor which the wind and solar cheer squad ought to be thinking about because super-cheap oil could kill their dreams.
 
As far as can be determined from observations outside the Vienna meeting room where OPEC delegates and those from Russia met there was a very pointed clash of views.
 
Saudi Arabia wanted the cuts to get a better handle on what's happening with oil demand as the coronavirus dampens global growth and oil traders report the weakest demand growth since the 2008 global financial crisis.
 
Russian delegates allegedly said they had grown tired of US shale producers feeding off the higher prices provided by OPEC and Russian production cuts and it was time to make a stand with the objective being to destroy the US shale sector.
 
Whether the Russian aim is as simple as destroying shale is an interesting question because it's also possible that an attack on US oil today is a political power-play given the start of the US Presidential election campaign.
 
Russia is also reported to believe that an attack on US shale will damage the wider US oil industry and the US economy
 
Slugcatcher has been around a while and two things he knows for certain are that Russia loves playing political games and that the US economy is a lot bigger than a single industry.
 
More importantly, cheaper oil is actually a win for the overall US economy whereas it's poison for Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries which are excessively reliant on oil and gas to balance their budgets.
 
At the close to business in New York on Friday oil, as measured by Brent quality crude, was trading at US$45.27 a barrel, down $4.68/bbl on the day, or a whopping 9.33%, taking the price fall over the past 12 months to 31.3% with most of that coming since the start of 2020 - with an accelerating trend as coronavirus fears mounted.
 
Whether a commonsense solution can be found before a full-blown price war breaks out is a critical issue because it seems to some outside observers that neither Saudi Arabia nor Russia (with their central-command governments and economies) are the most exposed to a price war which could drive oil back below $30/bbl, a price not seen for 20 years.
 
Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank, told London's Financial Times newspaper that she couldn't see how Saudi Arabia or Russia had anything to gain from a price war, even if it was a Russian attempt the play games with the US.
 
"OPEC and Russia are staring into the abyss," Croft said. "It's not clear what Russia hopes to gain from burning the house down."
 
The answer to Croft's pertinent question is that the gain being sought by Russia is more political than financial, which is a big worry for the oil industry.