Several days ago, oil spiked when headlines hit that Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi said he was "optimistic" about the future of the price of oil. The spike was confusing because what Saudi Arabia also said, but got no air time, is that the current excess oil production would persist indefinitely, and assure that the scariest chart for oil bulls, namely crude oil inventories in the US ...
... would continue to be the only thing in the US economy that has achieved "escape velocity."
Actually, we take that back: Saudi did not say it would keep production flat - what it did say is that it is boosting its output even higher in what is now a clear confrontation with the US "marginal producer", namely the shale patch, which so far has survived thanks to cheap funding from naive bondholders who are willing to fund US shale on hopes that an oil rebound is imminent, and increasing consolidation in the space which will cut overhead thus bringing the breakeven cost of production lower.
As Globe and Mail reported, instead of leaving its own production flat in an attempt to stabilize oil prices and hit its "optimistic" outlook sooner rather than never, Saudi Arabia would boost production quite sharply to claw back market share. Specifically al-Naimi, revealed that the kingdom’s oil production in March was 10.3-million barrels a day – a record high. "Saudi Arabia is going for it," Olivier Jakob of the Swiss energy consultancy PetroMatrix said on Wednesday as Brent crude fell by about 1.3 per cent.
So what is Saudi Arabia's reasoning to "make up in volume what it loses in price"? Here is G&M's attept at explanation:
Why is Saudi Arabia opening the spigot? There is no doubt that country’s own domestic demand is rising, thanks to heavy investment in new refineries, requiring more production. But it also appears that Saudi Arabia is making renewed push for market share for fear that a gusher of Iranian oil will soon hit the export markets as the Iranian embargo is ratcheted back. “They will not want to abandon any market share to Iran,” Mr. Jakob said.
The problem for oil producers and investor is that the Saudis are not acting in isolation. In March, both Iraq and Libya managed to boost production in spite of the violence and chaos in those countries. As a result, OPEC production in March was about 31.5-million barrels a day, an increase of 1.2-million barrels over February and 2-million barrels over March, 2014. The March figure is well above the second-quarter estimate put out by the International Energy Agency.
At the same time, U.S. production is surging, creating burgeoning stockpiles of oil. The combination of rising U.S. production and rising Saudi production can only be bearish for oil prices. The prospect of oil testing its January low should not be ruled out, especially if Iran is given the green light to ramp up exports.
The good news for oil investors is that low prices could well trigger a repeat of the consolidation round seen in the late 1990s, which was another period of extremely low prices. In that era, the biggies – BP, Chevron and Exxon – all did monster deals that significantly boosted their global clout. The trick, of course, is to pick the right company. The premium paid on BG’s share was 50 per cent over BG’s closing prices on Tuesday.
All of which probably "explains" why oil was, until a few days ago, at the highest level seen so far in 2015.