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Trump’s promise to “stay totally independent” of OPEC is populist hype [My IBD interview]

eia_apr15_us_oil_prod-importsContrary to his campaign hype (see article below), Trump-as-president will not do anything to interfere with the free flow of oil or gas to or from the USA.  As I pointed out in the Investors Business Daily interview (Gillian Rich’s story is below), people central to Trump’s administration – such as Rex Tillerson, his designated secretary of state and former CEO of Exxon, and Harold Hamm, Trump’s fracking billionaire friend he wanted for secretary of energy – are global-market-oriented businessmen who would never agree to disconnect the USA from global energy markets.

The free flow of petroleum through the unified global market traded in US dollars – what I call the “Global Barrel” – is central to the business model of every private as well as every national oil company.  Today there is essentially one, global oil price. If you break up the global market by limiting imports or exports, you get national markets with national prices.  Then what?

If the US price went higher than the global price due to keeping out cheap foreign oil, Trump’s popular approval would dive. And, if the U.S. price went lower due to a domestic production glut of fracked oil, then his support among business would tank.

Moreover, the unified global market serves as the key element in the world’s collective energy-security system by guaranteeing equal access and prices to all suppliers and consumers.   Continue reading

Putin’s new OPEC role reflects the toll of low oil prices on Russia [IBD quotes me]

I was interviewed by Gillian Rich at Investors Business Daily (Washington, DC) on non-OPEC Russia’s role in the production cut.  The article of December 9, is below. A few points first:

1: President Putin and his minister of energy Alexander Novak‘s participation in the OPEC decision – actually making middle-of-the-night phone calls to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, plus publicly promising to cut Russian production – is totally unprecedented. Never did the Soviets, nor  post-Soviet Russia  ever do any such thing previously. Why now?

2: As Rich quotes me as saying, oil prices below $60/barrel impose severe constraints on the Russian state’s income. Indeed, the federal budget has actually been based on $50/barrel, and yet the difficulties are apparent. Although Russian oil production is now at a post-Soviet all-time high, low prices have caused the state’s oil and gas income to severely drop. Here is the EIA’s assessment as of October 2016, showing the correlation of Brent price fall (in both dollars and Rubles) on the left, and the decline in oil and gas federal budget revenue on the right:eia_russia_oil_20oct16

But, how much of Russian national export revenue is derived from oil and gas revenue? The EIA (in 2014) puts this at 68%. Here’s the breakdown:  eia_russian_oil_gas_exprot_revenue201300

Nota Bene: Crude oil and products represent 54%, while natural gas is 14% – that is, oil is almost four times as large. This left 32% of Russia’s gross export sales to “other energy and non-energy” items where the energy part includes significant coal, lignite, processed and unprocessed uranium and electricity sales.

Indeed, this is the hallmark of a rentier state, not a modern industrialized, service-sector oriented society, much less a high-tech one (with notable exceptions in weaponry, nuclear energy, and etc.)

3: So, bottom line, what does this mean for the State?  There are two emergency funds intended for use in such circumstances. One will likely be exhausted this year and a second fund, intended for pensions and such, not for replacing budget deficits, is being tapped to replenish foreign reserves. Looking at the state’s foreign reserves graphically, we have this:russia-foreign-exchange-reserves

I have made the time axis here identical to the first EIA graphs, to facilitate comparison. Note, the baseline is not zero, but $350 billion. Russia was known to have had big reserves, but given low oil prices and the US and EU oil-and-finance sanctions over Ukraine, roughly a couple-hundred-billion dollars of reserves were lost, with about $50-billion regained as oil prices rose a bit this past year.

4. The first EIA chart above also shows a big divergence between the dollar and ruble price of Brent crude, reflecting the big devaluation-to-date of the ruble. This indeed helps the economy and the state in various ways; for example, with anything it can pay for at home in rubles.  However, with Russia hot having a significant percentage of its income from manufactured goods or agricultural exports, this low-valued currency does not give the boost it would give to a diversified industrial economy such as Western Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada or the USA.

Lastly, if we listen NOT to predictably pessimistic western analysts, but to the Russian federal finance minister himself, Anton Siluanov (speaking to Bloomberg in January 2016), Siluanov makes clear that  cutting the budget 10% in 2016 would only account for about 1/3 of the needed cuts and that raising cash from privatizations would be necessary along with spending down the aforementioned reserve fund. Indeed, after much shady ado in the Kremlin, which included the arrest of the federal economics minister, Rosneft has indeed privatized part of its state shares, 19.6% of the company, reaping 10.3 billion euros for the state budget. In further years, areas now forbidden to be cut, military and social spending, would have to be considered. You can listen to Siluanov here.

Putin knows very deeply how badly things can go if energy prices, and especially oil prices, remain low (as they likely will). He came to power at a time following the period of dire economic hardship following the crash of 1998 Continue reading

My CNNMoney quote & 3 points: OPEC v shale, Russia’s new role & Trump-buddy Hamm is pro Saudi price band

 

160928163540-opec-algeria-384x216I was interviewed by Matt Egan of CNNMoney. Three points, if I may:

  1. This story echoes my message in Berlin Policy Journal earlier this week and my RTRadio interview: OPEC now has to live with a new oil-market paradigm where shale  won’t disappear (for now its in the US, but soon elsewhere too).  It is a technology more akin to manufacturing than traditional oil extraction and so more amenable to technological and operating innovation in a low-price regime (or in a price war such as the Saudis et al have just given up on waging against it). And, being much smaller-in-scale means it can ramp up at much lower initial costs and more rapidly than traditional oil fields. The CNNMoney story is below here, or here’s the CNN ink .
  2. Another totally new phenomena seen in this OPEC deal was that a Russian leader was deeply involved in the tense OPEC negotiations, specifically between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia has never done this before. Historically, it has also never carried through on previous promises to support an OPEC cut, instead free-riding on higher prices effected by OPEC/Saudi cuts.  In this case, Putin was instrumental in getting the Saudi’s to agree, as they always have before, to swallow most of the cuts. But, Putin has agreed to cut too (in ambiguous language, but repeatedly). We shall now see if he and Igor Sechin (CEO of Rosneft, that produces 40% of Russian oil, and who is, by the way, a great friend of Venezuela’s miserably failing chavista leadership, where his company is now the biggest foreign oil producer) … do as they have promised OPEC and the Saudis. If they do not, the fallout with Saudis and their allies will be significant.
  3. Now, also, we shall see how US shale responds. Of course, IEA head, Fatih Birol, has understandably predicted that US shale and other producers, will likely hike production if oil reaches $60/barrel and simply eat up the present OPEC cuts in about nine months or so. (Aside: of course, the present output cuts, even if they ‘fail’ in the long run to sustain higher prices, would still have had been a significant cash-boosting relief to all OPEC states and to Russia while they lasted.)  However, take a look at the Bloomberg video link at the end of my Berlin Policy Journal piece – an interview with Howard Hamm, Trump’s billionaire fracking close-ally (who has just turned down an offer to run the Department of Energy). He had told Bloomberg he expects OPEC to make a deal because “it makes sense” and, further, that he expects/hopes his US fracking colleagues will show ‘discipline’ after the price rise, i.e., not expanding too fast so as to keep prices up.  An interesting, de facto recognition that price wars, in the end (in the long run), do not benefit either side, and goes on to approvingly say that the Saudi’s want to once again maintain prices “in a band” as they used to do. It is clear from Hamm that this would all be very welcomed from the US side. (Note, Hamm’s Continental Energy company made $3 billion in just three hours after the OPEC deal boosted prices! ) Indeed, in light of such everlasting market realities, it is difficult to imagine Trump’s attitude to the Saudi’s will be much different than other US president’s over the years. Which has geopolitical implications for Iran, of course, as the Saudi-Iranian geopolitical competition for regional influence and their parallel oil-market competition both continue to heat up.

Here’s the CNNMoney piece by M. Egan of 1 December 2016 (with my quote highlighted): Continue reading

An Oil-Price War´s Surprise Ending -My BPJ article on OPEC, Shale, Trump, Market & Geopolitics

bpj-oil-price-war-end-29nov16Here`s my latest at Berlin Policy Journal:  about  OPEC`s 30 Novermber meeting, US shale and the geopolitics from the  Trump Administration towards Iran and the Saudis. – Tom O`D.

An Oil-Price War’s Surprise Ending

No one expected shale producers to survive extended low oil prices.
, NOVEMBER 29, 2016 
The oil market’s oversupply – and the low prices that followed – was supposed to drive shale producers out of business. Instead, the economies of several large national producers have been upended, and the next act could prove even more destabilizing.

OPEC’s 171st meeting in Vienna on November 30 reflects the new paradigm of the global oil market. After two years, the Saudi-led price war to drive American shale and other “high cost” producers from the market has ended. However, to the surprise of many – not least the Saudis – shale has survived. What now?

The United States Energy Information Agency (EIA) expects persistent market oversupply to have been quenched by the second half of 2017. The Saudis view the diminishing oversupply as an opportunity to cut production by 600,000 or more barrels per day – although about twice this amount would be optimal – boosting prices from under $50 per barrel to $60 or more. The Saudis have worked intensely to reach an agreement at the OPEC summit to coordinate this production cut with Russia; any failure to achieve this highly anticipated deal would sink market confidence, pushing prices into the $30s.

The key obstacle to the Saudi plan is that Iran has refused to participate in any cut, insisting it should first be allowed to re-establish production it lost under years of sanctions. In response, the Saudis have threatened to boost their own production, punishing Iran by collapsing prices and by denying them market share. The Financial Times’ Nick Butler correctly characterizes this as “playing with fire,” and not only because of the severe pain this would impose on weaker OPEC states, but also for the geopolitical retaliation it might provoke from the new US administration as the Saudis would also bankrupt numerous shale producers in the US.

However, even if Russia, Iran, and the rest of OPEC agree to the Saudis’ cuts, US shale is widely expected to expand into the void, re-depressing prices by later next year. In all these scenarios, the future remains extremely difficult for OPEC, for Russia, and for other oil-dependent states.

A Price War Backfires

The prolonged high price of oil, starting to rise in 2002 and then dipping during the financial crisis before rising again till mid-2014, encouraged the emergence of new unconventional shale production. Driven by technical innovations in hydraulic fracturing plus abundant venture capital, by 2014 the US had added more new oil to the global market than what was lost in the Arab Spring and subsequent wars in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. By mid-2014, some two million excess barrels-per-day (bpd) were flowing into storage, and the price collapsed. Continue reading

Saudi & Russia seek oil deal as OPEC fight v US shale fails [My RTRadio Interview]

economonitor-com-putin_and_prince_g20_sept16

RT Radio-Edinburgh’s Jack Foster interviewed me on the upcoming 30 November OPEC summit where the Saudis hope to set a cap on OPEC and Russian production. Here’s the interview:   Listen from time-stamp 9:00-to-17:30 (Streaming MP3) 

This would  mark the first-ever Russian cooperation with OPEC. However, market realities look bleak for OPEC and Russia whether they reach an agreement or not. The reason is the unprecedented continuing challenge from US shale, which has dramatically cut its costs via tech and operational innovations to stay profitable at low prices. Continue reading

Post-election reading list: Trump’s foreign policy portends “world crisis”

euroactive-trump5440390625_feab8a9520_zMuch of the USA – and most of the world – were stunned by Donald J. Trump’s victory over Hillary R. Clinton last night.  His campaign was filled with bombastic claims,  but gave little detail on foreign policy.  However, now “the Donald” will be President and Commander-in-Chief of the superpower at the center of the global security system since WWII.  It is time to look at Trump’s foreign policy program and what it means. Below is an initial reading list I am giving to my students today.

An interesting study of Trump’s foreign policy ideas  has been done by Thomas Wright at Brookings Insitute in Washington in recent months. And, this is the first important point to see:  that Trump indeed has serious and deeply held ideas on foreign policy. Wright identifies three main tenants, as he explained in an interview in the Atlantic:

Trump’s isolationist ideology has three components, according to Wright: 1) opposition to U.S. alliances; 2) opposition to free trade; and 3) support for authoritarianism. In Wright’s view, these three beliefs, if translated into policy in a Trump administration, could do away with the liberal international order that the United States helped design after World War II and has led ever since.

Taken together, Wright argues these portend a change to the world order of a magnitude not seen since the pre-War 1930’s, when the Nazi party won elections in Germany and Continue reading

Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? Berlin, 10 October

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Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? – Panel Discussion (bios follow):

  • Ms. Rita Bitar Deeb  PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Ivo Hernandez  Lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster
  • Dr. Manuel Silva-Ferrer  John Boulton Foundation Fellow and Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell -Moderator  Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program, FU/BEST at Freie Universität Berlin

WHEN: 10 October, 6-7:30 pm. LOCATION:  Hertie School of Governance,  Friedrichstrasse 180 – 10117 Berlin, Germany.  [To attend, please register online.] – Venezuela is currently unable to adequately feed its people, or to provide basic services such as medical care, education, and electricity. Polls indicate about 90% of the population would vote to remove its Chavista president, Nicolas Maduro, if his government allowed a recall referenda to take place this year, which is widely demanded. What will happen in Venezuela: Collapse? Chaos? Democratic renewal?  And, moreover, why is this occurring now?

Since the mid-20th Century, fueled by oil riches, Venezuela has veered from being the leading example of ‘democratic development’ within a continent rife with right-wing dictatorships, to a nation mired in its own economic and political crises. A ‘neo-liberal shock’ in the late-1980’s failed and was roundly rejected by citizens. At the end of the 1990‘s, Hugo Chavez broadly excited the hopes for development of not only Venezuelans but elicited significant sympathy worldwide with Chavismo’s ‘new resource nationalism’ and ’21st Century Bolivarian Socialism’. However, this leftward turn is also demonstrably failing, with the nation again on the brink of disaster. What comes next? Our panel of Venezuelan experts weighs in and will address attendees’ questions.


Rita Bitar Deeb is a PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of the Freie Universität Berlin. She received her Master in Public Policy and Management from the University of Pittsburgh and Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests are democratization process, social development and gender policy. She has worked for the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and several local NGOs as project coordinator in Venezuela (Atenea, Súmate, Red de Apoyo-HHRR). Bitar has taught at the University of Kassel in Germany, and at the Catholic University in Caracas.


Ivo Hernandez is lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster.  He studied at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, the London School of Economics (LSE), the University of Heidelberg and University of Tübingen in Germany and The National Defense University in Washington D.C. His research interests include oil politics, national oil companies, the logics of terrorism, and Latin American politics and political economy.


Manuel Silva-Ferrer is John Boulton Foundation Fellow – exploring oil, society and culture in 20th-Century Latin America – as well as Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin.  Born in Caracas, he is a graduate of the Institute of Communication Studies at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) and earned his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.  He was Director of the state film foundation Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela and Head of Cinema and Media at the Ministry of Culture where his work included developing the National Academy of Film and Audiovisual.  Silva-Ferrer led ExtraCámara, a magazine for Latin-American photography, and was co-responsible for the creation of the Centro Nacional de la Fotografía, a public foundation for the promotion of photographic art. During his studies, Silva-Ferrer was Fellow of the Fundación Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho, and awarded a PhD full scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


Moderation & comments:

Thomas W. O’Donnell is Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program (FU/BEST) at Freie Universität Berlin.  An academic, analyst and consultant in the global energy system and international relations, his work has encompassed especially the role of oil and gas in the EU, Russia, Latin America, Middle East, China and the USA.  His PhD is from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in experimental nuclear physics, and he previously studied Political Science and China Studies at the State University of New York and Canisius College.  In 2008-09, he was US Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study of Development (CENDES) at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and in 2015 AICGS (American Institute of Contemporary German Studies) & DAAD Fellow in Washington D.C. O’Donnell has taught post-graduate seminars on energy in international relations and development at The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, The New School University’s JJ Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs (NYC),and Freie Universität, JFK Institute (Berlin). He is Senior Analyst at Wikistrat and consults with other geopolitical and business-intelligence firms. Before his PhD, O’Donnell gained broad tech experience in U.S. automobile-manufacturing, railway-operations and power-generation industries.  He is author of some 40 peer-reviewed scientific physics papers.


If you wish to attend, please register online.