Russia Mulls Crude Cutbacks as Saudi Considers an Industry Without OPEC

Thursday November 8, 2018

Even though the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies have strongly indicated that it's leaning towards a resumption of output cuts in order to prevent another global glut, there is dissent within the ranks - and even talk of what the industry would be like without the cartel.

While Alexander Novak, energy minister for Russia, has conceded that a return to cuts may be necessary, that country's largest oil firm, Rosneft, is seen to havesnubbed a meeting he was chairing designed to consult domestic energy companies in the face of leading global producers signaling possible cuts.

Reuters pointed out that some Russian companies, including Rosneft, have in the past opposed voluntary production because they don't want to lose global market share to other countries; Rosneft declined to comment about not attending Novak's event, which took place before a gathering of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

But Alexander Kornilov, an analyst at Aton LLC  in Moscow, argued that his country's oil producers could see their stocks rise by sacrificing a fraction of output in the event of a return to cutbacks.

He said, "History shows that we are able to turn production cuts to our advantage; if we look at how the Russian oil and gas index has moved since 2016 - when the country first agreed on production cuts with OPEC - everything becomes clear."

Alexander Losev, chief executive officer of Sputnik Asset Management, pointed out that any OPEC+ agreement that can stabilize crude prices above current levels will benefit Russian oil companies: "Producing less at $80 per barrel is better than producing at current levels and at $70 per barrel.

"A certain output decline will also help the companies to reduce operating costs and further improve their financials, including free cash flow."

Still, there persists a sentiment that seems to crave less regulation and more free choice about production particulars: presumably this is what motivated the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Riyadh to examine what might happen to oil markets without OPEC.

Adam Sieminski, who heads up the Center, told media, "We're looking at what happens if there's no spare capacity; one scenario to that is OPEC doesn't exist.

"We're looking at this because we think it's important; I would be incredibly surprised if there aren't 10 other analysts or institutions trying to understand the same question."

Ironically, all of this comes at a time when there seems to be a sense that the market is exactly in the right place: Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., earlier this week stated that the market "is very robust, solid, and strong" and that "it's only the emotions that are unstable."