Crude: Geopolitics playtime

May 19, 2017 08:38 AM

Crude oil prices are playing the geopolitical gyration game. Events in Brazil, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and the United States have oil prices and traders trying to price in risk in a rapidly changing political world. Calls for impeachments, changing political relationships, elections, OPEC meetings, the list goes on and on. The world could look like a very different place in the coming hours, days and weeks. Heck, even prosecutors in Sweden are dropping their investigation into Julian Assange rape charges. With all of this craziness, the risks for the oil market are to the upside.

We know about the President Trump situation. The United States has assigned former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special prosecutor to oversee the Justice Department’s inquiry into charges that could range from the Russians influencing the U.S. election or that President Trump tried to obstruct justice in the investigation into his former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

The investigation could extend even further into other issues like did President Trump have contacts with aliens from Mars and did he used undue influence to get that extra scoop of ice cream. Yet, the assignment of a Special Prosecutor seemed to calm the markets and calm Democrat politicians that are so tired of being so outraged all the time. They seem to be backing off their calls for impeachment. Probably because they might not be happy with where this investigation leads. It may extend to Democrats and their contacts with the Russians and other investigations that got swept under the rug. Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it.

But if the odds of a President Trump impeachment is going down, the odds of an impeachment of another president in Brazil is rising. Brazilian markets tanked as tapes that seemed to suggest President Michel Temer condoned bribes to pay hush money a key witness in a bridge scandal surfaced. Oil prices there tanked along with other Brazilian commodities like orange juice, soybeans along with Brazil stocks and of course state-owned Petrobras. When a report surfaced that his party asked for his resignation, the U.S. dollar spiked even after Mr. Temer said he would refuse to quit.

The voting has begun in Iran, the same day President Donald Trump is scheduled for a hero’s welcome in Saudi Arabia. The two are interconnected as Saudi Arabia felt that former President Obama threw them under the bus as they worked against the Saudi’s and helped empower their biggest rival Iran. Not only by lifting sanctions on their rival but failing to follow through on the Red-Line in Syria they felt was a slap in the face by their long-term ally. The Saudis see in Trump a President that will be strong against terror states like Iran.  Now with a possibility a hardliner getting in power in Iran, the Saudis need a United States that understands the risks of radical Islamic terrorism and terror states.

The OPEC meeting with non-OPEC producers is next week. OPEC is signaling that they have already agreed to extend current production cuts to 2018 with non-OPEC cuts but now there is talk of them announcing a larger production cut. Reuters reported, “One source said a deeper cut in output was an option depending on estimated growth in supply from non-OPEC producers, mainly U.S. shale oil firms, among other scenarios.” That would be the right move even if they failed to comply. The announcement may give the market the boost it needs to buy time to allow global supply to fall. OPEC, Russia and other producers originally agreed to cut production by 1.8 million barrels per day for six months from January 1st and are at least expected to extend the cuts until March.

Bloomberg News reported that Venezuela, the oil-rich Latin American nation that signed up to OPEC’s supply cuts, has reduced production more than any other member in the past year. And it’s not even trying. Venezuela pumped 2.02 million barrels a day in April, a 310,000-barrel-a-day decline from a year earlier and the steepest drop among OPEC countries, the International Energy Agency said. Production will continue to fall this year, according to Medley Global Advisors LLC.

The UPI reports that Asian markets are drawing more on U.S. crude oil to quench their appetites, but it's mostly coming from offshore and not shale.

Apart from certain cases, U.S. crude oil exports were restricted until late in the second term of President Obama. Federal data this week show total U.S. crude oil exports averaged 767,000 barrels of oil per day so far this year, compared with the 509,000 barrels per day for the last 10 weeks of 2016. The rise in U.S. crude oil exports has contributed to the steady decline in domestic inventories, as oil left the Gulf Coast market for overseas. Higher total U.S. oil production, meanwhile, is contributing to the factors facilitating more exports. Production for the week ending May 12 was 9.3 million barrels per day, up 6 percent from the same time last year.

Shale has other issues. Bloomberg News reported that shale explorers, pushing to expand oil production, are struggling to find enough fracking crews after thousands of workers were dismissed during the crude rout. Independent U.S. drillers underspent their first-quarter budgets by as much as $2.5 billion collectively, largely because they couldn’t find enough fracking crews to handle all the planned work, according to Infill Thinking LLC, a research and consulting firm focused on oilfield services and exploration. In some cases, active crews are walking away from jobs they signed up for months ago -- and paying early-termination penalties -- to take higher-paying assignments with other explorers. Workers earn anywhere from $29,000 to $72,000 a year before overtime, depending on the company and the region. The tight fracking market, “means U.S. oil production growth this year will be back-half weighted, and we may not understand the full extent of U.S. production growth until early 2018.”

About the Author

Phil Flynn is a senior energy analyst at The PRICE Futures Group and a Fox Business Network contributor. Phil is one of the world's leading market analysts, providing individual investors, professional traders, and institutions with up-to-the-minute investment and risk management insight into global petroleum, gasoline, and energy markets.