While OPEC has been mostly irrelevant in the past 5 years as a result of Saudi Arabia's recurring cartel-busting moves, which have seen the oil exporter frequently align with the US instead of with its OPEC "peers", and thanks to central banks flooding the market with liquidity helping crude prices remain high regardless of where actual global spot or future demand was, this Thanksgiving traders will be periodically resurfacing from a Tryptophan coma and refreshing their favorite headline news service for updates from Vienna, where a failure by OPEC to implement a significant output cut could send oil prices could plunging to $60 a barrel according to Reuters citing "market players" say.
By way of background, the key reason OPEC is struggling to remain relevant is because, as the FT reported over the weekend, "US imports of crude oil from Opec nations are at their lowest level in almost 30 years, underlining the impact of the shale revolution on global trade flows. The lower dependence on imports from the cartel, which pumps a third of the world’s crude, comes amid advances in hydraulic fracturing that has propelled domestic US production to about 9m barrels a day – the highest level since the mid-1980s."
The US "shale miracle" is best seen on the following chart showing the total output of the US compared to perennial crude powerhouse, Saudi Arabia:
It is this shale threat that has become the dominant concern for OPEC, far beyond whatever current US national interest are vis-a-vis Ukraine, and Russia's sovereign oil revenues, and as reported previously, Brent has to drop below to $75 or lower for US shale player to one by one start going offline.
Unfortunately, it may bee too little too late for the splintered cartel. As Bloomberg reports, "the days when OPEC members could all but guarantee consensus when deciding production levels for oil are long gone, according to a veteran of almost two decades of the group’s meetings."
The global glut of crude, which has contributed to a 30 percent decline in prices since June 19, has left the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries disunited and dependent on non-members to shore up the market, said former Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Attiyah. The 12-member group is set to meet in Vienna on Nov. 27.
“OPEC can’t balance the market alone,” Al Attiyah, who participated in the group’s policy meetings from 1992 to 2011, said in a Nov. 19 phone interview. “This time, Russia, Norway and Mexico must all come to the table. OPEC can make a cut, but what will happen is that non-OPEC supply will continue to grow. Then what will the market do?”
“OPEC had been enjoying easy meetings, and decisions were taken without a sweat,” Al Attiyah said. “Now the situation is different.”
Oil markets are oversupplied by about 2 million barrels a day, and global economic growth is below expectations, he said. “The U.S., which was a major market for OPEC, is no longer welcoming imports. It’s now striving to become an oil exporter. It’s already exporting condensates.”
So if OPEC is unable to reach an agreement, what is the worst case? Back to Reuters, which says that "The market would question the credibility of OPEC and its influence on global oil markets if there was no cut," said Daniel Bathe, of Lupus alpha Commodity Invest Fund.
That could send Brent down to around $60, Bathe said.
"Herding behavior and a shift to net negative speculative positions should accelerate the price plunge," he added.
Fund managers are divided over whether OPEC will reach an agreement on cutting output. Bathe put the likelihood at no more than 50 percent.
The oil price has been falling since the summer due to abundant supply -- partly from U.S. shale oil -- and low demand growth, particularly in Europe and Asia.
As a result, some investors believe a small cut -- of around 500,000 bpd -- would not be enough to calm the markets.
If OPEC fails to agree a cut, prices will drop "further and quite quickly", with U.S. crude possibly sliding to $60, he said. U.S. crude closed at $76.51 on Friday, with Brent just above $80.
It's not all downside: there is a chance that OPEC will agree on a 1 million barrel or more cut, which would actually send prices higher:
"The market really wants to see that OPEC is still functioning ... if there is a small cut, with an accompanying statement of coherence from OPEC that presents a united front, and talks about seeing demand recovery, and some moderation of supply growth, then Brent could move up to $80-$90." "Prices below $80 are putting significant strain on the cartel's weakest members such as Venezuela," said Nicolas Robin, a commodities fund manager at Threadneedle. He said a bigger cut -- of 1 million bpd or more -- was an "outlier scenario", but such a move would rapidly push prices above $85.
Then again, even thay may be insufficient if the market prices in an ongoing deterioration in global end-demand: "Doug King, chief investment officer of RCMA Capital, sees Brent falling to $70, even with a cut of 1 million bpd."
So in a worst case scenario, where Brent does indeed tumble to $60, what happens? We already know the answer, as it was presented in "If WTI Drops To $60, It Will "Trigger A Broader HY Market Default Cycle", Says Deutsche":
... it is not just the shale companies that are starting to look impaired. According to a Deutsche Bank analysis looking at what the "tipping point" for highly levered companies is in "oil price terms", things start to get really ugly should crude drop another $15 or so per barrell. Its conclusion: "we would expect to see 1/3rd of US energy Bs/CCCs to restructure, which would imply a 15% default rate for overall US HY energy, and a 2.5% contribution to the broad US HY default rate.... A shock of that magnitude could be sufficient to trigger a broader HY market default cycle, if materialized. "
This explains why the HY space has been far less exuberant in recent weeks, and the correlation between HY and the S&P 500 has completely broken down.
Finally it is not just the junk bond sector that is poised for a rout should there be no meaningful supply cuts later this week: recall that in another note over the weekend, DB said that should crude prices take another leg lower, then the most likely next outcome is a Profit recession, which while left unsaid, will almost certainly assure a full-blown, economic one as well.
So keep an eye on Vienna this Thanksgiving: the black swan may just be coated with an layer of crude oil this year.