Friday 05th Sep 2014
Saudi Arabia has unleashed an economic war against selected oil producers. The strategy masks the House of Saud’s real agenda. But will it work?
Rosneft Vice President Mikhail Leontyev; “Prices can be manipulative…Saudi Arabia has begun making big discounts on oil. This is political manipulation, and Saudi Arabia is being manipulated, which could end badly.”
A correction is in order; the Saudis are not being manipulated. What the House of Saud is launching is “Tomahawks of spin,” insisting they’re OK with oil at $90 a barrel; also at $80 for the next two years; and even at $50 to $60 for Asian and North American clients.
The fact is Brent crude had already fallen to below $90 a barrel because China – and Asia as a whole – was already slowing down economically, although to a lesser degree compared to the West. Production, though, remained high – especially by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – even with very little Libyan and Syrian oil on the market and with Iran forced to cut exports by a million barrels a day because of the US economic war, a.k.a. sanctions.
The House of Saud is applying a highly predatory pricing strategy, which boils down to reducing market share of its competitors, in the middle- to long-term. At least in theory, this could make life miserable for a lot of players – from the US (energy development, fracking and deepwater drilling become unprofitable) to producers of heavy, sour crude such as Iran and Venezuela. Yet the key target, make no mistake, is Russia.
A strategy that simultaneously hurts Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Ecuador and Russia cannot escape the temptation of being regarded as an “Empire of Chaos” power play, as in Washington cutting a deal with Riyadh. A deal would imply bombing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh leader Caliph Ibrahim is just a prelude to bombing Bashar al-Assad’s forces; in exchange, the Saudis squeeze oil prices to hurt the enemies of the “Empire of Chaos.”
Yet it’s way more complicated than that.
Sticking it to Washington
Russia’s state budget for 2015 requires oil at least at $100 a barrel. Still, the Kremlin is borrowing no more than $7 billion in 2015 from the usual “foreign investors”, plus $27.2 billion internally. Hardly an economic earthquake.
Besides, the ruble has already fallen over 14 percent since July against the US dollar. By the way, the currencies of key BRICS members have also fallen; 7.8 percent for the Brazilian real, 1.6 percent for the Indian rupee. And Russia, unlike the Yeltsin era, is not broke; it holds at least $455 billion in foreign reserves.
The House of Saud’s target of trying to bypass Russia as a top supplier of oil to the EU is nothing but a pipe dream; EU refineries would have to be reframed to process Saudi light crude, and that costs a fortune.
Geopolitically, it gets juicier when we see that central to the House of Saud strategy is to stick it to Washington for not fulfilling its “Assad must go” promise, as well as the neo-con obsession in bombing Iran. It gets worse (for the Saudis) because Washington – at least for now – seems more concentrated in toppling Caliph Ibrahim than Bashar al-Assad, and might be on the verge of signing a nuclear deal with Tehran as part of the P5+1 on November 24.
On the energy front, the ultimate House of Saud nightmare would be both Iran and Iraq soon being able to take over the Saudi status as key swing oil producers in the world. Thus the Saudi drive to deprive both of much-needed oil revenue. It might work – as in the sanctions biting Tehran even harder. Yet Tehran can always compensate by selling more gas to Asia.
So here’s the bottom line. A beleaguered House of Saud believes it may force Moscow to abandon its support of Damascus, and Washington to scotch a deal with Tehran. All this by selling oil below the average spot price. That smacks of desperation. Additionally, it may be interpreted as the House of Saud dithering if not sabotaging the coalition of the cowards/clueless in its campaign against Caliph Ibrahim’s goons.
Compounding the gloom, the EU might be allowed to muddle through this winter – even considering possible gas supply problems with Russia because of Ukraine. Still, low Saudi oil prices won’t prevent a near certain fourth recession in six years just around the EU corner.