by Gary Littlejohn for The Saker Blog
The recent rapid decline in oil prices may now be coming to a halt as Trump and Putin agreed in a recent phone call that their oil industry ministers should talk to each other about the oil standoff that began when Russia refused to agree to participate in a cut in oil output proposed by OPEC. This proposed cut was then effectively reversed by Saudi Arabia ‘opening the taps’ to increase its oil output. Russia continued to refuse to cut back, even though the COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced global demand for hydrocarbon products.
Various oil-producing countries have suffered from this as global storage capacity for oil has rapidly been filled up. For example, Oman may be compelled to sell off its energy companies because it cannot afford to run them at a loss, and Nigeria may have to cease production as it is one of the countries with a very low storage capacity. Yet contrary to long-running media coverage (recently reversed as the present oil price standoff developed) the US shale oil industry is very vulnerable to the refusal of both Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut production in the face of collapsing demand.
There has for about the last three years been a minority voice among US analysts of shale oil production claiming that the ‘sweet spots’(most readily accessible and high production oil fields) in the US Permian Basin had all been played out, such that the debts incurred by the extracting companies were becoming unsustainable. This view was increasingly recognised as being supported by the reluctance of lenders to continue financing such shale oil production on the grounds that the underlying geology indicated that the remaining oil (in proposed new fields) could not be recovered profitably.
In this context many commentators have seen the oil price standoff between Russia and Saudi Arabia as an attempt by one or both to eliminate a vulnerable competitor (shale oil) from the market.
Recent doubling down by Saudi Arabia after Russia claimed that it could withstand a long price-reducing output competition seemed to confirm this:
This seems to be the reason for the phone call from Trump to Putin:
Certainly some analysts have argued that the price competition could lead to a rebound to as much as $60 per barrel if the US shale oil sector were eliminated from the market. This growing chorus included a recent very direct claim from Igor Sechin, the head of oil major Rosneft:
It certainly looks as if there is very little room left for US shale oil to reduce its production costs further, especially when lenders have been increasingly shunning the industry for about the last three years. This has considerable implications for the USA in sustaining its dominant position in the global economy.
Whereas in the past the US had been self-sufficient in oil, by 2005 it was looking to rely more on oil and gas from the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, a policy that led to the US Department of Defense engaging in a diplomatic initiative to reduce maritime insecurity in that region, thereby minimising the risk of disruption to the envisaged new oil supply routes. This initiative resulted in the establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Commission in November 2006, but then the sudden technical and financial changes that led to the surge in US shale oil production meant that this reliance on West African oil was no longer necessary. Regrettably, since then maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea has become a great deal worse.
The fact that the US had become less reliant on oil imports was very important for sustaining the position of the US dollar as the global reserve currency, because it is the fact of the global trade in oil being priced in dollars that is the main foundation for that reserve currency position, thereby enabling the US economy to keep growing in a way that is fuelled by debt. That growth strategy is now under serious threat unless the USA can control oil supply and prices in other parts of the world. This ‘necessity’ places the current US refusal to leave Iraq and its theft of oil from Syrian oil wells in context, and makes it easier to understand the intense pressure being placed on Iran and Venezuela in particular. The aggression is actually sign of strategic weakness, verging on desperation. In other words, this is a major geopolitical turning point. It is for this reason that the US is pushing for an end to the oil price war:
From the viewpoint of Russia, this is certainly a good time to eliminate US shale oil competition, because Russia has recently grown into a much stronger position in the global energy market, after being underestimated until about 2015. In 2014, at about the time of the Maidan square coup in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and the US increased oil production in an apparent attempt to bankrupt Russia by pushing down the global oil price. At that time, Western commentators assumed that Russian oil fields were old, with future production likely to be flat, and that Russia would not be able to innovate to increase production on existing fields. It was also felt that there would be few new oil or gas fields that would enable Russia to increase its production substantially. Finally it was generally assumed that the devaluation of the Ruble would cripple the Russian economy, leading possibly to social unrest and an over throw of the Russian government. All of these assumptions proved to be false, and were seen to be false at the time by a small minority of well-informed Western commentators.
In fact the devaluation of the Ruble was far less damaging than most had assumed, partly because economic sanctions meant that Russia became even less reliant on imports, including of food, while pushing on with a revolution in Russian wheat production that led to a rapid growth in exports and lowered domestic food prices. In addition, ongoing oil and gas export revenues continued to be in foreign exchange, while the devalued Ruble meant the Russian oil became cheaper internationally.
In 2014/5 Russia immediately began to turn its oil production around with four innovations, one of which greatly extended the productive life of its older oilfields. Then it opened a major new natural gas field in the Arctic (Yamal, soon to be followed by Arctic 2) and continued with the construction of various pipelines that meant it could supply the EU, China and Turkey with gas more cheaply than would have been possible by ocean shipping or rail. Furthermore, the implications of the fact that the Power of Siberia pipeline to China, which started on 2nd December 2019, is a fixed price contract seem to have been missed by many commentators: at a time of steep oil price decline, there is no reason to believe that the price of Russian oil exports to China has declined at all, let alone by the same amount as the global market price. At a time when China is now gearing up to restart its economy following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic there, it will presumably soon start to consume oil and (via LNG tanker shipping) natural gas at almost the same level as before.
This level of resilience is further boosted by the Turkstream and Nordstream pipelines, and the Nordstream 2 pipeline is due to start up later this year in spite of all the obstacles placed in its way:
Russia Employs Warships To Secure Nord Stream 2 Completion Works
Russia also seems to be moving into energy markets in Africa, with one company now having a stake in the Algerian gas pipeline that crosses the Mediterranean to feed into the EU gas market and with an apparent attempt to recover ownership of oil fields that it lost when Gadaffi was ousted in Libya:
Yet what is most important in the longer term is that the earlier assumption that there were no new oilfields to be developed in Russia has also proved to be mistaken:
No wonder Russia has claimed that it could withstand a low oil price for a decade:
Nor should Russia’s position be considered in isolation from developments elsewhere. For example, Iran has discovered a large oil field next to one of its gas fields, but has little chance of developing it in the present circumstances. The long-term implication in terms of shifting global energy sources is evident, however. More important in the shorter run are the vast oil resources in Venezuela, one of whose fields borders neighbouring Guyana. US oil companies are already eyeing up these enormous opportunities. The sudden re-emergence of overt political pressure by the US on Venezuela is an indication that there are strong reasons for the US not to give up on ‘regime change’ in Venezuela:
US Congress Approves Legislation to Wage a Hybrid “Humanitarian War” on Venezuela?
Venezuelan Opposition Declares It Is Also Against US-Proclaimed President Juan Guaido
Trump’s Plan to Go after Venezuela in the Midst of the Pandemic Will Fail
Trump admin’s $15 million bounty on Maduro triggers explosive confession of violent Guaidó plot
The last link above provides important detailed information as to why the charges of Venezuelan government involvement in the Columbian narcotic trade are untrue. Part of Russia’s response to this US campaign has been for Rosneft to sell its Venezuelan subsidiaries to a company wholly owned by the Russian government, in order to avoid US sanctions:
In general Russia has undertaken a whole suit of measures to insulate its economy against the sanctions imposed since 2014, with the result that it now has a highly resilient, diversified and increasingly innovative economy with two sovereign wealth funds, with gold and foreign exchange funds sufficient to pay off all government and corporate debt, and with a highly trained and well-equipped military that implies that some forms of intervention and destabilisation are much less likely to succeed. In the global energy power game, the fact that US President Trump phoned Putin amid speculation of offers to ease various kinds of sanctions in return for a renewed agreement on oil output with OPEC is certainly a very important development. For an economy not much larger than that of Germany on the Purchasing Power Parity measure, an economy that defaulted on its debts in 1998, this is quite a turnaround.
MoA, after reviewing the various options, concludes that the oilprice drop will continue until shale production is snuffed.
Russia is limited to the pipelines delivering its products as they run at almost full capacity.
World storage facilities are filling up rapidly with production exceeding consumption at about twenty million barrels per day. Storage facilities in the US are roughly 200 million, with the strategic reserve able to store 150 million but only can store at the maximum rate of two million barrels per day.
Countries can rent tankers to store over the horizon above ground oil but at a cost of 2.50 to 3 USD per barrel per month. This will quickly lead to negative prices for producers with limited take up and storage as all available storage is filled up. This has driven prices into the six dollar per barrel range in Oklahoma and western Texas (see Bloomberg). The Canadian tar sands will be one of the first to shut down. Venezuela will not be far behind.
US producers are partially hedged up to nine months foward using standard futures contracts. The rest is sold on the spot market. Russia on the contrary has been selling in long-term fixed price contracts, delivering their product mostly by pipeline.
Russia has flexible exchange rates, so when the Ruble was devalued, Russian energy producers, selling product in USD could still show a profit. Before the recent slide from 64 RUB to 80 RUB per dollar, marginal extraction costs were about 3.10 USD per barrel. With the new exchange rates they are in the neighborhood of 2.30 USD per barrel.
Saudi Arabia has its currency pegged to the USD. Their extraction costs for oil is around 2.50 USD. Russia is now the world’s lowest cost producer. Russia now calls the shots. How much power Russia now has depends on how much oil they have available in above-ground storage that they can quickly deliver to world markets, namely how much is parked in tankers off-shore.
Mr. Trump can now stoically defend free markets. Tanker rates are already rising.
In picture that you described above what happens when you include gold? (rethorical question but any comment will be appreciated)
E.g. Gold price and trend of its rise; gold reserves of Russia and Saudia Arabia; devaluation of ruble when Russia is gold producer etc.
Sorry for bad english.
Well today (April 1st) it has been reported that the Russian central bank has stopped buying gold.
The above article offers various possible explanations, but one could add that possibly Russian gold mines have stopped production owing to COVID-19. Up till now Russia has been increasing its gold reserves presumably as a kind of insurance policy against fluctuations in the relative value of the other main currencies that it holds, namely US dollars and the Euro. It also holds the currencies of other countries because it has various swap arrangemens with them, so that they can still trade even if either trading partner does not have access to US dollars. I cannot comment on the trend in the gold price except to say that there is now a big demand for gold (dicussed in the above link) and that those who held paper certificates promising to pay in real gold are having great difficulty in getting that physical gold delivered, as the article points out.
I imagine what Russia wants most from the U.S. is a commitment not to start a shooting war with Russia. Since the Western transnational elite wants Russia under its thumb, and the Western transnational elite is essentially in control of U.S. foreign policy through the Deep State, I do not see how Trump could deliver on this unless Trump wants to take on the U.S. Deep State. The only way that will happen is if Trump is re-elected and then surrounds himself with actual U.S. patriots who will take on the talks of dismantling the CIA, the U.S. media and the Western run global financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.
Can’t imagine Trump doing such a thing. Not like he is an “actual US patriot” himself, no matter how you define it, so why would he surround himself with such?
Lack of imagination is a very serious, in fact crippling, strategic handicap, PLG.
As is lack of vision.
Are YOU an actual US patriot, by any chance??
If so, could you please define the patriotism qualification parameters that you propose be set……. by which to measure the sincerity, ignorance or deviousness of others on the current domestic …in regard to them?
Thank you for your attention to this important and highly relevant matter!
If the US abandoned its LNG exports, maybe an oil deal could be struck.
If Donbass was released from Ukraine, maybe an oil deal could be struck.
If the US left Iraq and Syria, maybe and oil deal could be struck.
If the US and NATO withdrew from East Europe, maybe an oil deal could be struck.
Trump would have to give a lot to get an oil deal.
And then there are Sanctions . . .
But, the Senate and the Russophobes won’t allow any deal, so, this is just a What if?
Remember this about Putin. In any arrangement, agreement or deal he makes, the partner in the deal has to take affirmative action, or there is no deal. There are no backdoors to escape from the deal.
Russia is in the driver’s seat. Putin isn’t giving anything. He doesn’t need a deal.
He’s going to break the US fracking and shale industry and he’s going to crash the Saudi economy.
They cannot stop him, and he’s not going to end it all before he wins.
It is either a negotiated winding up of the Empire or an all out war.
So, the US just might start negotiating.
All out war is more likely, since Trump has almost zero control over what the U.S. government does.
If your supposition were correct (it might be), then it would require Trump in his second term.
He would back off the confrontational position, if the US held sway over Western Hemisphere and part of Europe.
However, no President can wind up the Empire. There won’t be a Gorbachev in the Oval Office.
The Military won’t give up its historic position on land in Europe. And definitely, US Navy won’t give up its blue water presence around the globe.
And there won’t be an all out war. Neither side intends to commit suicide.
This economic war which is focused on the energy sector of America is the best weapon. The US has no response. They put their head in a headlock and Putin isn’t going to let go.
It is a street fight, and street fights don’t end with negotiation. Usually, in all the street fights I have ever seen, one side gets its ass kicked, its face busted up and sometime a lot of other bad things inflicted on it.
The US called for a fight. Putin dropped a punch on them that has them dizzy. Now comes the pain.
It looks like Larch is right again. The empire has been pushing the whole world to the absolute limit and weaponizing the global resource industry with a view to breaking Russia, and if possible China as well. Putin is one deep and serious dude and he has known all along that it is just a matter of time before he has to do the gunfight at the OK Corral thing and put the mad beast empire down for good. It has left him zero choice. So he has positioned himself to waste the American resource economy and settle its economic hash for good, in the smoothest and most civilized way possible, complete with all the deniability and political cover he could possible need. It is masterful Judo in a global power game of epic scale, well prepared. There is a new sheriff in town boys and he ain’t no lightweight. The evil empire dies at the hand of its own sick economic logic.
Your take on street fight dynamics is correct, although it is worth remembering that sometimes the victor must himself take a pummelling before finally beating his opponent into submission.
Trump’s big weaknesses, his impulsive, off-the-cuff ego driven decision making style and his susceptibility to bad advice, also give him the “squirrelly” advantage in a street fight situation against opponents who lack the ability to respond effectively to unexpected moves.
But in this case the belligerents have a modicum of respect for each other on a personal level and big surprises are unlikely.
Define “US” as there are many players we don’t vote for.
“The Empire” is losing it’s grip on the “US” and the “Empire” cannot negotiate anything as it can only be thrown off and eliminated. Two separate entities. We are back to “win win” or destruction. If you haven’t noticed what Trump, Putin, Xi, Bolsanaro, and others are doing …….
Nah, I believe Putin, and Trump for that matter, want all to win within their abilities and nobody “crashes”. I’ve lived my life that way and am a tough ombre when someone tries any shit to the contrary. That is Putin ,Trump, and ……..
The “Swamp/cCabal/13 families” is global and they have not seen what is now coming at them. The “fight” is on and I’m betting on the Orange Man and Putin in no particular order.
There is now (April 1st) a correction to earlier claims about the possible negotiations, claims which came from US sources. It now transpires that Trump was trying to get a deal with both Saudi Arabia and Russia, and to get them to agree a deal with each other. It is now very clear that Saudi Arabia and Russia are still not talking to each other and are unlikely to do so in the near future, so Trump has got nowhere:
The following quotation from the above link makes the position very clear:
“However, as Goldman noted last night, any agreement to cut output is likely too late and would fall short of the loss in consumption, not that one is imminent mind you because after Trump’s comments last night, on Wednesday Russia said it is not in talks with Saudi Arabia on oil market situation and President Vladimir Putin has no immediate plans to speak with Saudi Arabian leadership, though Moscow remains open for talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters on conference call.”
So the exit from US shale oil is continuing today (April 1st):
I see in the news an American Aircraft Carrier is struggling terribly with Covid on board.
Article reminds me of the Sakers take on the aircraft carriers and there complete redundancy in light of current technology.
If covid is as serious as they say Navies are going to have a terrible time headache on their hands and I figure this will be the dividing line really if we have death rates as comparable to Lombardy!
During the 1918 flu, all ships military were called death-ships.
I suggest you all google “leviathan” and watch youtube videos of how 1,000’s of sailors died on every ship to & from the european battle during ww1. They went to europe infected, they came back with a stronger-strain, in both directions the local politicians held parades and USA citizens were infected and died by the 10’s of 1,000’s.
Same now virtually all ships are infected
Same now basic training continues and young infected are brought in to infect everybody in training, then their shipped out infected to infect the world.
Considering the importance of energy prices to the US (both from a domestic perspective of energy independence and from a reserve currency hegemony point of view), wouldn’t a shale industry bail out in the form of money-printing/QE be one of the options here? I.e., throw enough money at it till the price limps back to $60 per barrel or whatever it takes to break even?
They were (and still are) already throwing money* @ shale oil for years (since 2014)! Your caring MSM just didn’t inform you.
*the oil company would insure against price drops, so if the price goes below X the banks would pay gor the difference. And the banks got their $ from the FED in form of free money. But this can’t run forever. In Feb 2020 US debt was at 23 trillion, now it’s 32 trillion. Exponential growth. It is truly game over.
Why do you say US debt is now 32 trillion?
I just checked the US National Debt Clock (in real time) & is says 23.619 trillion.
Sorry I don’t recall where I read it (I am only human, I don’t keep links, I only observe trends). I got it either @ the saker in the comments or in smoothiesx12 articles. Maybe Bloomberg TV because I was watching them too. I didn’t dismiss that info bcs it goes well with the fact that the FED is repo-ing like crazy.
Now all countries are selling their Treasuries to deal with the economic shutdowns. And the US stimulus of 2.2 trillions. This all raises the debt. So it is not far-fetched that the debt is at 32 trillion. It might be even bigger.
Thanx for the explanation.
I don’t doubt that it could very well be up to 32 trillion now.
And I’m not sure about trusting the info/figures they themselves put out!
I only ask because I didn’t want to quote the figure to others if I didn’t know where it came from.
We certainly are living in very interesting times!!!!!
Interesting times indeed, and fascinating viewing from my armchair. I do have a problem though…I don’t like Popcorn.
Hmmmm … that IS a problem! LOL
Agreed. If the FED was repo-ing 1 trillion per day since mid-November, the debt could be astronomical.
CNN is slowly introducing the notion that corona might resurge in autumn. The narrative pushed on the masses is that this could go on for a long time. Bloomberg TV was already saying the 2,2 trillion stimulus might not be enough.
I believe they are pushing the sheeple to the point the ppl snap and agree to anything.
And the social distancing measure is to prevent organized protest. “Thinning the herd” … mandated individualism , this is actually the process of dissolving the society, nation states, you name it…
And due to the mandated economic shutdown and the joblosses that will follow, everyone will be looking at the gov for help. Everybody became dependent on the state by decree. Overnight.
Selling US Treasury Bills in exchange for Federal Reserve Notes, no matter who owns or buys them, does not change the US Treasury debt from its current $23.6 trillion, unless the US Treasury sells additional US Treasury Bills to whomever is willing to buy them; this could of course include the Federal Reserve, who are able to create Federal Reserve Notes on their computer without incurring debt.
“Clearly, the deal between Rosneft and the Kremlin (read between Sechin and Putin — who are of course longstanding associates in Russian politics through thick and thin — gives an unambiguous signal that Moscow is in Venezuela for the long haul, no matter what it takes.
The geopolitical implications are hugely consequential for the future of the Maduro government, enhancing Russia’s overall standing in the western hemisphere and highlighting the limits to US hegemony in its own backyard. (Isn’t it Ukraine in reverse order?) The Latin American countries (and China) will be closely watching, too.”
A Russian Firewall For Venezuela Against US Sanctions
So, what exactly did Trump offer to Putin?
I doubt it had anything to do with ending armed conflicts or extracting American legionaires from illegally occupied territories, whether Ukraine, Syria or Iraq. And undoubtedly no promises not to attack Iran or Venezuela. You know, the American people want all that aggression to continue ever so much.
Could Trump at least call the dogs off on the never ending obstructions of Nordstream 2 or easing some of the ludicrous economic sanctions? Maybe return some of the real estate Washington seized on the preposterous charges of stealing Hillary’s election? Washington always seems to want more or to punish more. Maybe what they want should finally require some quid pro quo. Did anyone even say thank you for the heavy transport of medical supplies sent as a gift to the United States by Russia? Or was their largess simply dismissed as a propaganda stunt as was China’s charity to Italy earlier?
If I were some fully linked-in space alien watching the goings on here on Earth like some television drama, no way America would be considered playing any role but that of the villain… the bad guys.
here is a few murcan reactions to Russian aid for the imperial homeland.
read the threads for inputs from “regular joe/jean” the majorityof them will make you cringe and probably lower your iq a fair bit.. I certainly feel dumber after reading them..
Things r moving fast.
Caring BBC told me not to talk to my friends on social media. Corona just went digital!
Of course they r just afraid that ppl might organize resistance. Sheds light on the real reason Mutti, and Johnson, and Prince Charles, Vucic and others are in hiding. They r afraid of guillotines.
I doubt that there is anything that Donald Trump can promise due to “недоговороспособны”; concessions from the US (that are not easily reversible) will need to be undertaken in lieu of goodwill.
Russia owes nothing to the empire or its poodles, unless we are talking payment-in-kind.
Maybe Vladimir Putin will dangle a carrot then snatch it away? “Make their economy scream”
Much wishful thinking.. But this is not how diplomacy is done.
Offer the other guy a way out whilst enveloping his assets, that is more like it.
I doubt the world will be privy to their conversation, so wishful thinking will suffice and a much welcome distraction from the Covfefe fever.
It likely was an effort by the Empire to flood the world markets with oil in conjunction with the criminal House of Saud, crashing the price to hurt Russia. It backfired. But it did hurt Venezuela. And since then they have been piling on the illegal and inhuman sanctions, more recently added. Likewise, during this Coronavirus pandemic, they have increased sanctions against Iran. This beast behaves in such an inhumane way, I see no evidence of any move towards repentance for all the evil they have committed. That Trump might call Putin to work a deal by removing ‘some sanctions’ is laughable and not near enough.
I wish I could have confidence that there will be no all-out war but I don’t. This beast feels no remorse. It doesn’t like being threatened and it wants the oil and is determined to get it all. The economic system is in a state of collapse and I believe this is by design. The Federal Reserve is buying up all the big corporations and everything else, it appears. What they have in mind should become clear soon enough. I’m sure we will not like it. There must be a reason they want everyone locked in their homes and away from everyone else. This virus, while real, doesn’t seem to warrant such extreme measures as to destroy millions of lives and the economies of nations. There has to be another reason. Something very big is in the works.
Gary, thanks so much for writing this for us – it makes more sense to me now.
I am not sure how the Dollar is behaving vis a vis this all. It feels as if there still is a piece missing in my thinking. Anyone care to comment realistically?
The dollar will do just fine, we are still a major player in the bread basket of worldly foods as a last resort.
The people who will suffer are the consumers. We are a refiner of many products, they are exported as well as consumed at home. These products have a shelf life, and once the shelf life has expired, great damage can occur to machinery like engines, expensive repairs.
So the industry asa rule has already been holding onto (storing) these products to keep the price inflated, but as the demand drops and storage times increase and prices drop, the consumer will be enticed to buy and hold, but the holding period has nearly expired, so once said held products are eventually used, they can and probably will cost more to repair the damage done than the holding savings will be justified in the end. Its a fools errand designed for maximum profits for the industry, and a gamble for the unwitting consumer.
Tip of the day: Do your manufactures homework before you buy his products.
From what I read about the conversation, they said they should continue to talk and would depute someone from each side.
For once I agree with MKB here https://indianpunchline.com/trump-tiptoeing-toward-energy-market-management/
“They also exchanged views on the current state of the global oil market and agreed that Russian and American energy ministers should hold consultations on this topic.” from http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63086
There’s nothing to say there’s a deal and price will rise (though it did 3% today). This article’s title is tries to draw conclusion from the phone call, though nowhere it seems to say so.
On the oil issue, good reading is also to be found at Andrei Martyanov’s blog.