The global oil glut, as some call it, is caused by the toxic mix of soaring production in the US and lackluster demand from struggling economies around the world. Since June, crude oil prices have plunged 30%. It drove oil producers in the US into bouts of hand wringing behind the scenes, though they desperately tried to maintain brittle smiles and optimistic verbiage in public.
But everyone in the industry – particularly junk bondholders that have funded the shale revolution in the US – were hoping that OPEC, and not the US, would come to its senses and cut production.
So the oil ministers from OPEC members just got through with what must have been a tempestuous five-hour meeting in Vienna, and it was not pretty for high-cost US producers: the oil production target would remain unchanged at 30 million barrels per day.
“It was a great decision,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said with a big smile after the meeting.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were thus overriding the concerns from struggling countries such as Venezuela which, at these prices – and they’re plunging as I’m writing this – will head straight into default, or get bailed out by China, at a price, whatever the case may be.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez emerged from the meeting, visibly steaming, and refused to comment.
The US benchmark crude oil grade, West Texas Intermediate, plunged instantly. Even before the decision, it was down 30% from its recent high in June. As I’m writing this, it crashed through the $70-mark without even hesitating. It currently trades for $68.51. Chopped down by a full third from the peak in June.
This is what that Thanksgiving plunge looks like:
Nigerian Oil Minister said OPEC and Non-OPEC producers should share responsibility to stabilize the markets. I don’t know what he was thinking; maybe some intervention by central banks around the world, such as the coordinated announcement of “QE crude infinity” perhaps?
Ecuadorian Oil Minister called the decision a rollover. However, the Iranian Oil Minister, whose country must have a higher price, kept a positive face, saying, “I’m not angry.”
The next OPEC meeting will be held in June, 2015. So this is going to last a while. And there is no deus ex machina on the horizon.
It seems OPEC, or rather Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States, decided for now to live with the circumstances, to let the markets sort it out. High-cost producers around the world will spill red ink. Governments might topple. Junk bondholders and shareholders of oil-and-gas IPOs that have blindly funded the miraculous shale revolution in the US, lured by ever increasing hype, will watch more of their money go up in thick smoke.
And the bloodletting in the US fracking revolution will go on until the money finally dries up.