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The Forgotten Conflict That Is Threatening Energy Markets

The Forgotten Conflict That Is Threatening Energy Markets

One of the world’s forgotten conflicts is now making headlines again. In the last week, the military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has reignited, with the two nations having already been engaged in a military confrontation for decades. Nagorno Karabach, an Armenian enclave inside of Azerbaijan, is one of the main underlying factors for the conflict, but the growing rivalry between Russia and Turkey is also playing a part. More than 16 soldiers have been killed in the most recent round of fighting. Both sides are accusing each other of aggression and military action. The use of full scale armed forces and drones have been involved, killing several soldiers on both sides and reportedly an Azerbaijani general. The current outbreak of fighting has been the deadliest since the “April War” of 2016. While most clashes normally occur in and around the Armenian controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region, the current clashes are on the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The international community is urging both sides to end the clashes.  The United States, European Union, and the OSCE Minsk Group are trying to defuse the situation. While it remains unclear what reignited the conflict, it seems that Armenia played a large role in increasing tensions. Armenia recently constructed a new military outpost, which could have given Armenian armed forces a tactical advantage and tempted Azerbaijan to strike. At the same time, Azerbaijan is being buoyed by strong support from Ankara and may have wanted to test Russia’s support for Armenia. Remarkably, Armenia has called upon the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Armenia is a member, to intervene. The CSTO’s response, from Yerevan’s point of view, however, is lacking. As of July 14, the CSTO has only called for a normalization of the situation on the border, not implying that it would provide military support for Armenia.

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The OPEC Meeting Could Send Oil Prices Crashing Below $10

The OPEC Meeting Could Send Oil Prices Crashing Below $10

OPEC Meeting

The current optimism of analysts and the media that an end to the ongoing OPEC+ oil price spat is near is entirely unjustified. The ongoing oil market volatility, the battle between leading producers for market share, the logistical impossibility of enforcing U.S. production cuts, and the continued demand destruction caused by COVID-19 are not issues that can be solved by an OPEC meeting. Immediately after Trump’s latest OPEC twitter offensive, Saudi Arabia and Russia came out with critical statements about the impact and influence of the US president on the matter. While Putin and Mohammed bin Salman are reluctant to bash Trump, the real power when it comes to the oil market does not lie with the U.S. President. The tweet by Trumpclaiming that MBS and Putin would agree to a 10+ million bpd production cut shows not only his overestimation of his own power over the two countries, but also shows a lack of knowledge about the underlying market fundamentals and the current demand destruction worldwide.  As former US president George W. Bush stated during his election campaign, which did not end well as we know, “it’s the economy stupid” that matters in the end. Trump’s tweets and general approach to this matter suggests he and his administration are out of touch with reality. Even if a Saudi-Russian combination would cut 10 million bpd, the oil price reaction would be minimal and very short-lived. At present, leading oil market experts such as Vitol, Trafigura and Goldman Sachs are warning of a total demand destruction of 20 million bpd or more.

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The Oil Crisis Saudi Arabia Can’t Solve

The Oil Crisis Saudi Arabia Can’t Solve

Middle East

Saudi Arabia’s CEO Amin Nasr’s message to the press that oil flows to the market are guaranteed, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Looking at the current volatility in the Persian/Arabian Gulf and the possibility of a temporary closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the Aramco CEO’s message might be a bit overoptimistic. In reality, Aramco will not be able to keep the necessary crude oil and products volumes flowing to Asian and European markets in the case of a full Strait of Hormuz blockade. Even that Aramco owns and operates a crude oil pipeline with a capacity of 5 million bpd, carrying crude 1,200 kilometers between the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, much more is needed to keep the oil market stable.  

Nasr’s move to stabilize the market is praiseworthy but should be seen as an attempt to quell fears of traders and financial analysts, especially just before the OPEC+ meeting in Viennanext week. Nasr reiterated that Aramco (aka the Kingdom) is able to supply sufficient crude through the Red Sea, reiterating that the necessary pipeline and terminal infrastructure is there. However, what analysts tend to forget, Nasr’s statement is only linked to Saudi’s oil export volumes, which will likely be not higher this summer than around the level this pipeline can support. The real issue, if it comes to a full-blown conflict, is that not only Saudi oil is being threatened.

At present, between 20-21 million bpd of crude and petroleum products are transported via the Strait of Hormuz. Saudi exports are a vast part of it, but also the UAE, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Iran, will have to look at additional routes.

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Why An OPEC Oil Supply Surge Won’t Happen

Why An OPEC Oil Supply Surge Won’t Happen

Oil well Middle East

The end of the Iranian sanction waivers by the Trump Administration has put oil traders on edge.

While most analysts are optimistic about OPEC leader Saudi Arabia being able to fill the gap left by lower Iranian oil exports, reality could be totally different. Looking at the ongoing discussions between OPEC’s two key members, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, there are no real signs that the Kingdom of Oil will be willing to increase its overall oil production to keep prices at the pump low in oil importing nations.

The real crux at present is what the market will do when, on the 2nd of May, the Iran sanction waivers end. History has shown that oil importers are very well equipped to take mitigating measures to counter the effects of the Iran sanctions. Saudi Arabia, and others, will have to be very careful to stabilize the market without falling into a Trumpian trap, which could result in an oversupply situation in the short term.

At present, all signs point to higher oil prices. If no real additional oil is brought onto the market, shortages will become visible within months. Statements made by U.S. president Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Saudi Arabia and the UAE will add supplies to counter the loss of Iranian volumes are currently only wishful thinking, and not based on any hard promises from Riyadh or Abu Dhabi.

OPEC’s leaders are in a powerful position to react to Trump’s calls for additional volumes and lower prices as they wish. Washington’s strategy may well have backfired, as U.S. shale will not be able to supply the markets with the necessary crude grades. At the same time, national oil companies are willing to take a backseat, as long as OPEC+ production cuts are in place. 

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The Next Geopolitical Flashpoint For Oil

The Next Geopolitical Flashpoint For Oil

Sudan Coup

The removal of long-time Sudanese dictator Omar Bashir by the Sudanese army has been hailed by some as a sign of a new “Arab Spring”.

From a Western point of view, the removal of president Bashir of Sudan, after several weeks of mass protests in Khartoum and other cities, is in line with the exit of Algeria’s long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Optimism in the press, especially in the West, over both developments seem to be based on emotions and not on facts. As the Arab Spring has shown, don’t ever count out the existing power structures of the respective regimes, and specifically the armed forces. The Egyptian revolution was the first example, shortly after the ‘democratic revolution’ the military took over and reinstated the status quo.

The sudden intervention by the Sudanese forces, led by Sudanese defense minister, Awad Ibn Auf, to remove President Bashir from office is again fully in line with the Egyptian and Algerian examples. So-called democratic protests on the street have culminated in a showdown. Internal assessments by the Sudanese armed forces, and security forces have shown that the position of Bashir was unsustainable. International pressure and internal dissent have totally undermined the position of the Bashir clan, and Arab states didn’t bother to rescue the embattled dictator. These assessments have not been made in the Western press, as Europeans and Americans always seem to focus on the narrative of protesters chanting for freedom.

The facts on the ground are different. The current developments could well be qualified as a second “Arab Spring”, as it follows the same political and security story that we have seen before. President Bashir has been removed from office without a military confrontation between the Sudanese armed forces and the militant supporters of Bashir, the Janjaweed.

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The Impending Endgame In Oil Markets

The Impending Endgame In Oil Markets

Chess

U.S. president Trump is facing strong internal pressure to punish Saudi Arabia in the coming days.

For Washington, however, this could be a double-edged sword, as turning on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could result in two unwanted major geopolitical consequences. The still fresh Jamal Khashoggi murder case continues to make headlines due to a relentless anti-Saudi media and a diplomatic offensive by Turkey, Qatar and Western diplomats, and it could trigger the largest U.S.-Saudi/Arab crisis in decades.

U.S. politicians have set their sights on the position of the young Saudi Crown Prince, based on still unsubstantiated claims of direct involvement by Ankara and unnamed CIA-officials, U.S. president Trump finds himself backed into a corner to deal directly with the Kingdom.

Until now, the U.S. Administration has refrained from mentioning the direct involvement of MbS in the murder of the former Saudi journalist, but has put sanctions on the officials being connected to the case. Inside of the Kingdom, the pressure is also increasing but this time not to remove MbS, but instead to prepare a harsh response to any possible U.S. claims or sanctions on Royal Family members. Senior Saudi officials have already indicated that a direct attack by Washington or European leaders will be met by severe repercussions.

A Western-Turkish move to pressure Saudi King Salman to remove his son from power is at present unrealistic. Looking at the ongoing situation inside of the Kingdom, and in the Arab world, the support gathered the last weeks by the Saudis from their allies UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, is clear. No Arab country will allow for a ruling Crown Prince to be removed from power by an outside, non-Arab entity.

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U.S-Saudi Clash Could Spell Disaster For OPEC

U.S-Saudi Clash Could Spell Disaster For OPEC

OPEC meeting

The Khashoggi case is far from over, as current harsh statements coming from Washington are showing.

Not only is there a long line of U.S. Senators calling for an in-depth investigation of the matter, some have even openly called for the removal of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin. Senior R-Senator Lindsay Graham, one of the staunchest supporters of US president Trump and Saudi Arabia, has broken ranks as he asked on US Fox-News to remove MBS from his position.

These moves from Washington are not only endangering the very strong ties between Washington and Riyadh, but also endanger the overall Middle East and internal stability of OPEC. The oil cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, is looking at a very stormy ride the next couple of months, while the U.S. is heading for another showdown in the Arab world.

The Khashoggi case has become a possible watershed in international relations. Statements made by US R-Senator Graham, already supported by other high-ranking U.S. officials, show that the position of Saudi Arabia as a strategic ally of Washington in the Middle East, and MBS in particular, is under severe pressure.

The public threat, made by Graham news channel Fox-News, to put strong sanctions on Saudi Arabia, if the Crown Prince is not being removed, is a first. Not even in the case of Iran, Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine or the ongoing disaster in Syria, an open call was made for regime change. If threats were made by U.S. government-linked senators, it always was directly linked to a strong opposition movement in that country, or being directed at an anti-U.S. government or entity.

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Tight Oil Markets Are Ignoring Supply Risk

Tight Oil Markets Are Ignoring Supply Risk

Aframax tanker

The global oil market is once again in flux as geopolitics and regional conflicts take an increasingly heavy toll on oil supplies. Since the OPEC meeting in Vienna, warning signs that oil markets are heading for a shortage in supply, due to low spare production capacity and growing security threats in and around the Persian Gulf, have not been taken into account.

The perceived oil production increase from the OPEC and Russia agreement has not materialized in full. Analysts are even reporting that the spare production capacity of Saudi Arabia is less than 500,000 bpd.

This lack of production capacity must now become a major point of focus as, in addition to the ongoing Iran-U.S. confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian backed Yemeni Houthi rebels have once again attacked Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea. In response, Saudi Arabia has suspended oil shipments through the Bab El-Mandeb Strait for an undisclosed period of time.

Aramco stated that “in the interest of the safety of ships and their crews and to avoid the risk of oil spill, Saudi Aramco has temporarily halted all oil shipments through Bab El-Mandeb with immediate effect. The Company is carefully assessing the situation and will take further action as prudence demands”.

Even though no casualties have been reported, the current situation is undeniably dangerous and has been escalating this year.

So far in 2018, the Houthis have threatened to increase their attacks on Saudi or Arab Alliance owned vessels. On April 3, a Saudi tanker was shot at with a projectile from Houthi fighters. Several other Houthi attacks have been reported against commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Bab El Mandeb area lately.

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Saudi Arabia, Russia Ink 3 Huge Energy Deals

Saudi Arabia, Russia Ink 3 Huge Energy Deals

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia hits bullseye, IPO and LNG deals cements geopolitical cooperation Russia

Hidden by the fog of the ongoing oil market volatility and the Turkish adventures in Syria, OPEC leader Saudi Arabia has been cementing its geopolitical position for years. In Riyadh meetings this week between Saudi and Russian officials, major energy deals were sealed, changing the regional constellation dramatically. At the same time, the geopolitical shift of the century now starts to bear fruit.

Russia has directly offered to invest in the upcoming Aramco IPO, supporting the efforts of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to diversify the economy of the kingdom. During the meetings, not only new Saudi investment deals in Russia were sealed, but also the commitment of several Russian investment parties in the Aramco IPO.

After weeks of receiving a hell of a beating in the press (analysts started to doubt that it would ever happen), not only positive news has come from the NYSE and LSE, but also — as expected — from Russian institutions.

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the main Russian sovereign wealth fund, Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), stated in Riyadh that he expects that a Russian and Chinese joint investment fund, working in conjunction with several major Russian banks, will be part of the Aramco IPO. He also indicated that other Russian financial institutions and investors are very interested to take a part of the 5 percent of Aramco being offered in the IPO.

These statements are a significant boost for MBS and his IPO advisors, as the participation of a Russia-China investment fund also shows the interest of Chinese parties in the stakes. While Chinese parties are expected to be willing to hand over tens of billions, Dmitriev’s statements have widened the scope.

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Middle East Tensions Near Boiling Point

Middle East Tensions Near Boiling Point

GCC meeting

The 38th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit resulted in a showdown between Qatar and its Saud-led alliance counterparts.

Saudi King Salman decided to send a lower diplomatic delegation in his place, chipping away at the stability in the region. Additionally, in an unexpected move, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that the two countries have formed a new economic and military partnership, separate from the GCC. Arab analysts have already indicated that this could deal a deadly blow to the role of the GCC.

Officially, the decision made by UAE’s ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan and the Saudi King is not linked to the ongoing Qatar crisis. However, the symbiosis currently showing between Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is the main force behind this bilateral cooperation agreement.

The direct impact wasn’t clear within the first few hours of the GCC meeting. Analysts speculated how the news of the fresh Saudi-Emirati military and economic cooperation would impact the six-member GCC meeting. Until the new alliance was announced, the media was primarily focused on the ongoing Qatar crisis, especially due to the fact that the Qatari Emir was in attendance. Insiders, however, already expected that the new agreement would have a detrimental effect on the GCC meeting, given the impact of the council’s two main supporters decided to create their own military, political, and economic alliance.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have clearly been paving the way for a confrontation with Iran and Qatar for several months, while also setting up major economic projects in their own countries as they coordinate military operations in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Two weeks ago, Emirati analysts indicated that the UAE would take a primary role in regional conflicts, which has now come to the surface more clearly.

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Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century?

Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century?

Putin

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically.

The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world—as displayed during the Obama Administration—are facts.

The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia. This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih. Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and even the UAE, have shown an increased eagerness to develop military and economic relations with Moscow, even if this means dealing with a global power currently supporting their archenemy Iran.

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The Technical Failure That Could Clear The Oil Glut In A Matter Of Weeks

The Technical Failure That Could Clear The Oil Glut In A Matter Of Weeks

Oil

OPEC exports have come under pressure this week from technical threats to oil fields, with Saudi Arabia’s Manifa problems grabbing the headlines.

Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser, while addressing the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, stated that the outlook for oil supplies is “increasingly worrying”, due to a loss of $1 trillion ($1000 billion) in investments last year. The skepticism shown by a majority of financial analysts and oil commentators about the real threat to global oil (and gas) production volumes was countered by the news that the production at Saudi Aramco’s main offshore oil field, Manifa, has been hit by technical problems. News sources reported that the output from Saudi Aramco’s massive Manifa oilfield has been hit by a technical problem. The impact of this possible technical mishap is not to be underestimated. Aramco’s Manifa is one of its biggest oilfields, with a targeted production capacity of around 900,000 bpd, to be brought onstream in two phases. At present, the main issue being reported on is that there has been corrosion of the water injection system, which is used to keep pressure in the reservoir. No facts have emerged about the total impact on the Manifa production capacity, but unnamed sources are already quoting ‘millions of dollars’ of losses. The current reports are not really worrying, as corrosion control in a water injection system is only a technical challenge. Maintenance of the field is expected, resulting in a shut-down of production – something that has been confirmed by Sadad Al Husseini, former VP Aramco. If the all production needs to be shut-down, Saudi Aramco’s overall production capacity will be cut by 900,000bpd.

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Saudi Power Struggle Could Destabilize The Entire Middle East

Saudi Power Struggle Could Destabilize The Entire Middle East

Riyadh

Political instability in Saudi Arabia is growing as King Salman bin Abdulaziz begins to overhaul the Saudi government, putting a long list of family members into positions of influence while increasing the power of his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. These actions have the potential to lead to a direct conflict with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The expected internal power collision, predicted by many analysts, finally seems to be heating up. The real surprise, however, is that it is taking place while King Salman is still alive rather than during the succession period. King Salman’s royal decrees, in which he has appointed two of his other sons, Prince Abdulaziz and Prince Khaled as Minister of State for Energy Affairs and Ambassador to the United States respectively, has opened up Pandora’s box.

At the same time, King Salman has decided to re-establish all allowances and benefits which were canceled last September during the oil price bust. Additionally, the King has stated that two months of salary will be paid as an allowance to the military and security personnel fighting in Yemen. The latter is a complete reversal on economic measures taken in 2016 when Saudi Arabia was hard hit by the global slump in oil prices.

The power struggle in the coming months could emerge inside of King Salman’s palaces as the current government overhaul is a direct move to increase the influence of the Salman branch of the Al Saud family tree. During this time, media sources in Saudi Arabia and the GCC have indicated that King Salman’s decrees have moved several allies of his son, Mohammed bin Salman, into key positions. King Salman has also shown a keen interest, likely supported or instigated by Mohammed bin Salman, in strengthening relations with the United States. The appointment of Price Khaled as ambassador to Washington is convincing evidence of this suggestion.

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Saudi Arabia Vs. Russia: The Next Oil Price War

Saudi Arabia Vs. Russia: The Next Oil Price War

Oil Refinery

International oil markets could be heading towards a new war, as leading OPEC and non-OPEC producers are vying for increased stakes. The unexpected cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC countries, instigated by the full support of Saudi Arabia (OPEC) and Russia (non-OPEC) has brought some stabilization to the crude markets for almost half a year. The expected crude oil price crisis has been averted, it seems, leaving enough room when looking at the fundamentals to a bull market in the coming months. As long as Saudi Arabia, Russia and some other major producers (UAE, Kuwait), are supporting a production cut extension, financials will be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

The effects of the 2nd shale oil revolution, as some have stated, have been mostly mitigated by a reasonably high compliance of OPEC and non-OPEC members to the agreed upon cuts, while geopolitical and security issues have prevented Libya, Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria, from entering with new volumes. Stabilization in the crude oil market, as always, is not only fundamentals but also geopolitics and national interests. The latter now could also be the main threat to a successful extension of the OPEC production cuts in the coming months.

Fears are growing that OPEC’s leading producer, Saudi Arabia, is no longer happy with the overall effects it is generating by taking the brunt of the production cuts, while at the same time, other OPEC members, such as Iran and Iraq, are looking at production increases. Saudi Arabia’s other main rival Russia is also not sitting idle. Even if Moscow is still fully behind the official production cuts, Russian oil companies have been aggressively fighting for additional market share in Saudi Arabia’s main client markets, China, India and even Japan. Iraq and Iran, in contrast to what was expected, have been cutting away share in Europe.

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