Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, now seems to be moving to Phase 2 of its efforts to achieve a $75 – $100bbl price range. As the blog noted in early December, the Saudis’ initial tactic was to play ‘hardball’ within OPEC. The aim was to ensure that other countries did not try to get a free ride, by forcing Saudi to make most of the cuts needed to bring supply back in line with slowing demand (as happened in the early 1980s).
Thus prices were allowed to slip to a low of $32/bbl, in line with the blog’s forecast of a temporary $20 – $30bbl floor (made when oil was $70bbl). And the Saudi tactic has led to high levels of OPEC compliance, as members recognised the dire consequences of indiscipline. Compliance with OPEC quotas is now around 75%, with output cut by over 3mbd versus the 4.2mbd target. Current OPEC production is just 26.15mbd according to PetroLogistics, who track tanker movements.
Now, the Saudis are signalling a more aggressive approach. Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has suggested that Saudi will now reduce production by a further 300kbd, below their OPEC quota, and commented that “we are working hard to bring the market in balance”. Their first aim is clearly to stabilise the market around the $35 – $45 range. This looks achievable, especially with the USA’s summer driving season just about to start.