WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia and Russia are the leading world oil producers and exporters. Energy Ministers from both countries are about to meet in Qatar to discuss a possible agreement leading to production cuts.
Too much oil
The current glut, intentionally allowed by Saudi Arabia when it refused to cut production when confronted with lower prices, is hurting both of them. And the situation is about to get worse. With the lifting of international sanctions, Iran is now free to export more to Europe and elsewhere. This means even more supply (about 400,000 barrels a day) from Iran in an already over supplied market. This will keep crude prices down. They are around $ 30 right now, less than half of what they used to be when the glut began.
Saudi Arabia can tolerate the financial pain caused by the huge oil revenue loss, for now, but not indefinitely. Likewise, the Russian government has been forced to cut spending, repeatedly, while dipping into a reserve fund to cover for the substantial revenue shortfall. Depressed crude prices are really bad for both countries.
May be it is time for the Saudis to get a deal with Russia. The problem is that Saudi Arabia is also concerned with retaining market share. If it cuts production, it will lose some customers. And others who are not cutting may end up benefiting.
Can we get a deal?
Hence the importance of a deal with Russia, the other giant exporters. The two of them combined control 20 millions barrels of production. What will be the substance of a deal? What guarantees can the two sides offer? Is such a deal really possible?
In theory, yes. In practice, we would be entering uncharted territory. This has not been done before. Russia is not an OPEC member. Besides, Russia is not viewed as a friend by the Saudis. Moscow is on good terms with Iran, while it heavily supports Assad in Syria.
Can the two countries go beyond these major political differences, and strike a deal that would benefit both of them financially, in a major way?
As we are getting closer to what feels like an emergency situation, an agreement between Moscow and Riyadh is just possible. Stay tuned.