Category Archives: Chavez

Putin’s OPEC tactics: Iran sanctions and the Saudis [IBD cites me]

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June 2018 OPEC meeting’s key players (AP)

Last week, Gillian Rich at Investor’s Business Daily (Washington), asked me (Berlin) and others about the OPEC’s 20-21 June meeting. Below here, I give my views in more detail, including the tie-in to the Trump project to isolate Iran and my comment about Putin likely betraying the Iranians again.  The IBD piece is here: Trump Could Make OPEC’s Next Meeting As Dysfunctional As G-7 Summit. 15 June ’18.

We spoke about market and geopolitical aspects. On the latter, I emphasized both the Trump Administration’s evolving plan to sanction and isolate Iran, and Russia’s new role as a central player with OPEC ever since the 2016 joint Russian-OPEC decision to raise production.

That’s when Putin played a new role for any Russian leader. Not only did he coordinate Russian oil policy with OPEC’s, he got personally involved in heated discussions, getting on the phone late in the last night with Iranian and Saudi leaders to get the deal sealed.

This new Russian role was clearly foreseen by al-Naimi, Saudi oil minister from 2014, before al-Falih replaced him as minister, to serve the new king, Salman, and his son Prince MbS.

In 2014, as prices were crashing, al-Naimi said that there was no way  nowadays that OPEC alone could cut sufficient production to reverse this. Indeed, he met with Russia and Mexico, at the insistence of Venezuela, before the late-2014 OPEC summit to see what these two  non-OPEC states were willing to do to help out.  At that time, the Russians (much less the Mexicans) were still unwilling to join with OPEC. So, instead of implementing cuts, al-Naimi led OPEC to increase production, declaring a (ultimately unsuccessful) price war against US shale producers, whose new cheap oil had been driving down prices.

Finally, in 2016, after almost two years of crushingly low prices, Russia was finally willing to come onboard late in the year, joining in the first-ever coordinated OPEC-Russian production cuts, and in the process Putin (and Rosneft’s Igor Sechin) personally played an essential role inside OPEC by cajoling the Iranians to go along with the Saudi-Russian plan – as per the aforementioned late-night phone  calls.

So, here we are another two years later, in mid-2018:  the Russia-Saudi, or OPEC/NOPEC combo has finally gotten the previous global oil glut and low-prices somewhat under control.  Aided by growing global demand for oil, their cuts have gotten storage in the USA and elsewhere down, and they have gotten lucky as long as US shale producers face temporary limits on getting their rapidly growing production to market for a lack of pipeline capacity to USA ports.

Now that they’ve begun to get some leverage over prices, Russia and the Saudis want to reign in prices from overheating.  At the same time, they have to make up for the death spiral in production caused by the Chavez- and Maduro-led collapse of the Venezuelan oil industry, and an expected decline in Iranian exports due to the Trump administration’s campaign to impose the “strongest sanctions in history” (Sec. of State Pompeo).    Continue reading

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What’s keeping foreign oil firms out of Iran? IRG? [CNNMoney quotes me]

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To put Iran’s recent production increases in perspective: On its own, for 37 years, Iran has struggled to produce two-thirds of its pre-revolutionary level of 6 million barrels/day. Now, domestic opposition is again limiting foreign oil companies’ participation to boost production.

Since the Obama-administration’s and Europe’s nuclear sanctions were lifted early this year (marked ‘e’ on the chart), Iran has been expanding its production and exports more rapidly than most experts had expected. Tehran has actually tripled exports since late-2015 (see point ‘f’).  But, here’s the big question: Can Iran sustain this years’ production gains?
If to, this could seriously undermine Saudi Arabia’s global oil-market share, and boost Iran’s sanctions-damaged economy to a long-awaited recovery.
The short answer: Now that foreign sanctions are finally lifted, the battle to boost Iran’s oil exports has shifted to a domestic clash over whether to allow foreign oil companies to have significant upstream involvement. This is a domestic Iranian issue with a long history.
Historical perspective
Let’s start with some historical perspective: The Iranian National Oil Company (NIOC) can only do so much on its own to boost production. After decades of sanctions, it lacks the needed technology and finance.  I told CNNMoney‘s Matt Egan, on Wednesday, that the faster Iran expands on its own, the faster production will plateau. (His CNNMoney article today quotes me .).
This was what happened after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.(‘b’ on the chart). By about 1992, production had plateaued at almost 4 million barrels/day, under 2/3 of the pre-revolutionary, late-1970’s level of roughly 6 million barrels per day. (‘a’ on chart).  The Iranian president at the time, Rafsanjani, argued to religious conservative and nationalist members of the Majilis that only foreign oil companies’ technology and investments could expand production further. However, he only won grudging approval for an offshore project due to fears that foreigners would bring their irreligious ways ashore and/or undermine the hard-won nationalization of Iran’s oil sector.
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Latin American Oil: Beijing Still Lending, But for How Long? – I’m quoted by Energy Compass

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Last week, Energy Intelligence (EI) quoted me on China’s continued appetite for oil and gas investments in Latin America even with its own  economic slowdown and LatAm’s many political upheavals. (Sincere thanks to EI for a PDF of their proprietary Energy Compass to share on my blog. You can access it below here.)

Some thoughts on China’s strategy: In the case of Venezuela, as the price of oil fell, Beijing quickly eased up on PDVSA’s repayment terms for its huge outstanding loans which are repayable in oil. This shows some willingness to help Venezuela cope with the falling market value of oil. Why? Because, mainly, it is the oil that China has always been laser-focused on – not making interest on these loans.

Generally, it is clear that new Chinese investments or loans are still possible in Latin America. In Venezuela however, Continue reading

My AQ piece: “Russia Is Beating China to Venezuela’s Oil Fields”

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Russian Production & Stakes in Venezuelan Oil Projects (40% stake is limit)

Last October & November I succeeded in interviewing several people in the Venezuelan private sector directly knowledgeable of Russian oil projects with PDVSA. Many Venezuelans wonder what all the Russians-known for their secrecy-are up to there.  Some of my key findings are in Americas Quarterly‘s Winter 2016 edition. Read on … 

Russia Is Beating China to Venezuela’s Oil Fields – By THOMAS W. O’DONNELL

The profits, politics and luck behind Russia’s growing footprint.

Russian companies produce more oil in joint projects with PDVSA than their Chinese counterparts This article is adapted from our 1st print issue of 2016. 

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, had long envisioned China becoming Venezuela’s biggest oil-sector production partner. So when Rafael Ramírez, then president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), announced in January 2013 that Russia would produce enough oil with PDVSA by 2021 to become “the biggest petroleum partner of our country,” very few people believed him. It sounded like empty hype.

Yet it turns out that Ramírez was serious. Three years later, Russian companies are already producing more oil in joint projects with PDVSA than their Chinese counterparts. Official figures are either unreliable or unavailable, but according to field data provided by Global Business Consultants (GBC), a Caracas-based energy consulting firm, Russia-Venezuela production as of late 2015 was 209,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared to China-Venezuela’s at a bit over 171,000 bpd.

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A Strange “No!” Alignment: Greeks, IMF and Washington v. Berlin and Brussels

What a strange rebellion against the international financial order.  On Sunday 5 July, Greece voted “No!” by a resounding 61% to the bailout conditions insisted upon by Berlin, Brussels and “the creditors.”  But, what is truly unique here is the alignment of international forces for renegotiation of Greek debt.

Throughout the post-War era, whenever it came down to imposing “discipline” on other small, debt-defaulting states, the most intrepid champions of the norms of the international financial order have consistently been Washington and the IMF (just ask Argentina’s Mrs. Kirchner, she’ll tell you).

Yet, look who agrees with the Greeks that their debts–in their present magnitude and structure–are impossible and potentially disastrous for the country: Continue reading

Paralyzed on Economic Reforms, Venezuela Will Mortgage Citgo [My Americas Quarterly analysis]

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Photo:: Listverse.com

[My post at Americas Quarterly, 5 Feb 2015]  Since before the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in March 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has remained paralyzed to enact reforms needed to escape the economic dysfunction Chávez left behind.

In his latest national address on the economy on January 21, Maduro finally acknowledged the recession and shortages faced by Venezuelan citizens. Yet, he failed again to clearly implement any of the pragmatic economic reforms[1] advocated by Rafael Ramírez, the former minister of energy and former president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA)— such as a de facto bolívar-to-dollar devaluation via unification of Venezuela’s multi-tier foreign exchange (FX) system, measures to attract more foreign financing for oil production, and removing internal price controls, especially for gasoline.  Meanwhile, in September 2014, Ramírez was demoted to foreign minister, and then to UN ambassador several months later.

According to insiders, Maduro’s failure to implement pragmatic reforms stems principally from two sources.
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Oil Price Collaterals: Saudi strategy shakes Russia, Iran & Venezuela, but they’re not targets

Obama and Saudi King in Saudi Arabia after the death of previous king

Falling oil prices are not a US-EU-Saudi plot against Russia, Iran and Venezuela… though their effect is certainly not unwelcomed..Foto: REUTERS/Jim Bourg

 

[Printed in IP Journal, German Council on Foreign Affairs] Pin-pointing the reason for the dramatic – and continuing – fall in the price of oil is relatively easy: OPEC held its 166th conference in late-November 2014 to decide on a strategy to address oil prices, which had been falling at five to ten percent per month since July. Rather than pursue a production cut

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