The precarious "game theory" equilibrium that worked for decades while OPEC was still a functioning cartel is unwinding before everyone's eyes. Just as Saudi Arabia accurately anticipated, the lower the price of crude goes, the more both OPEC members and their non-OPEC peers (especially shale companies funded by hundreds of billion in junk bonds) will have to produce in order to keep their budgeted revenues roughly in line (and keep creditors happy for the time being) in the process setting off an unprecedented wave of bankruptcies and production capacity declines, which take about 6-12 months after the price plunge to materialize. Case in point: the country formerly known as Iraq (and now better known as that region around the Tigris and the Euphrates that does not belong to ISIS) is pumping crude at a record pace and will continue to boost exports this year, its Oil Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said.
Those who were rushing to buy Brent on its latest intraday Friday spike, and are wondering why it is back below $50, here is the reason: "The average for Iraqi crude output is 4 million barrels a day, which is a historical record,” Abdul Mahdi said at a news conference after meeting his Turkish counterpart, Taner Yildiz, in Baghdad. Exports from Iraq will rise to 3.3 million barrels a day this year, boosted by oil from the Kurdish region, Abdul Mahdi said.
Bloomberg reminds us that Iraq's central government reached an accord last month with the Kurds to allow increased oil exports through Turkey. Oil prices have fallen about 56 percent since June amid a supply surplus on global markets. That, and also unknown numbers of ISIS crude barrells being transported via illegal channels through Turkey and onward to unknown end-buyers, most of which operated shrouded in secrecy.
More from Bloomberg:
Iraq will ship 60 crude cargoes, equivalent to 3.3 million barrels a day, from the Basrah Oil Terminal in the Persian Gulf in February, according to a preliminary loading program obtained by Bloomberg News today. The whole country exported 2.94 million barrels a day in December, the most since the 1980s, Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said Jan. 2.
Exports from northern Iraq through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan will average 375,000 barrels a day in the coming months, rising to as much as 600,000 barrels a day by April, Abdul Mahdi said. About 500,000 to 600,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s production is consumed locally, he said.
An agreement in December resolved months of feuding between Iraq’s Kurdish region and in the central government in Baghdad over who had the right to export crude from the semi-autonomous area. The deal allowed for as much as 550,000 barrels a day of oil to be shipped through Turkey from northern Iraq, including 250,000 a day from the Kurdish region. Iraq’s central government had previously threatened legal action against any buyers of crude produced in the Kurdish area.
One wonders how little it cost the Saudis to override any Iraqi objection to this deal, considering that this merely accelerated the endgoal so sought by the Saudis - the collapse of crude prices.
And speaking of collapsing prices, how much further can they drop? For the answer we go to Reuters which reports that Iran's oil minister said on Monday that there are no plans to call an emergency OPEC meeting to discuss prices. Bijan Zanganeh, in remarks posted on the oil ministry's website SHANA, called for increased cooperation among OPEC members to balance the market to ensure a reasonable oil price for investors and producers.
Zanganeh said that Iran's budget should be based on oil at $72 per barrel, but Iran could withstand lower oil prices. "Even if the oil price goes down to $25 a barrel, the oil industry will not be threatened," the Fars news agency quoted him as saying.
And there is that magin "$25" number again. For those curious to read more, here is our report from a month ago, "Oil May Drop To $25 On Chinese Demand Plunge, Supply Glut, Ageing Boomers."