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Saudi Prince Delivers a Message About the Second Cold War

Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman (ABS) said this week that OPEC+ may need to cut oil production. This may be necessary, he said, to correct problems in the market because “the paper and physical markets have become increasingly more disconnected.”

This is rhetorical theater. It has no real basis is fact. But that’s not what this is really about.

This is about the second Cold War to create new world order.

In a written statement to Bloomberg, ABS stated,

The paper oil market has fallen into a self-perpetuating vicious circle of very thin liquidity and extreme volatility undermining the market’s essential function of efficient price discovery.
–Abdulaziz bin Salman

It is true that volatility has been extreme since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, 2022 but that was nearly six months ago. The worst of the volatility ended in April so the timing of ABS’s comments makes little sense based on oil-market technical concerns.

Liquidity and volatility are inversely related. When volatility is high, investors are reluctant to invest in futures contracts. That’s because the price variance is too high to make manage risk. With limited capital flowing in and out of oil markets, it is difficult to convert an asset/contract into cash. High volatility begets low liquidity.

ABS’s distinction between the futures (paper) and physical (spot) markets does not survive the light of day.

Figure 1 shows Brent futures price (red), futures price volatility (blue) and 2021 average price volatility (dashed blue). Both price and price volatility increased after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February of 2022. Volatility decreased in April but has not returned to the pre-invasion 2021 volatility average.

Figure 1. Brent oil-price volatility & futures price both increased with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. Source: CME, EIA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

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