Musings From the Oil Patch January 13th 2015
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January 13 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch January 13th 2015

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report. It contains a number of titbits, not least on the outlook for the natural gas market and energy stocks. Here is a section on the Saudi succession: 

Prince Muqrin is the third youngest son of King Abdulaziz. He is a pilot having been trained at a Royal Air Force college in Britain. He is a former chief of the General Intelligence Directorate and served as a governor of several provinces in the country including the one containing the holy city of Medina. While Prince Muqrin is thought to be a steady hand and close to the king, probably because he is strongly anti-Iranian, the fact that his mother was from Yemen and thought to have been a concubine, introduces a new dynamic into the succession thinking. At the current time, Islamist revolutionaries have seized control of Yemen and are actively fighting Saudi Arabia. We wrote about that development in the context of how Saudi Arabia is being surrounded by Islamist terrorists, which was manifest in the overthrow of the Kingdom’s political supporters in Yemen. The Saudi government admits it ignored Yemen in recent years, which contributed to the power shift and the loss of its allies there. 

At the time Prince Muqrin was elevated to his position as second in line to the throne in 2013, we and others commented that the choice indicated King Abdullah’s focus was on maintaining the historical consistency in the selection process rather than introducing politics into the selection. It also suggested that the King was entrusting Prince Muqrin with the future responsibility for selecting the first Saudi Arabian ruler from the family’s third generation, which will mark a significant event in the history of the country. 

The current fighting between Saudi Arabia and Yemen could present a succession issue within the Allegiance Council as family lines (loyalty) are considered very important in the Islamic world. Is it possible that Prince Mishal, as head of the Allegiance Council, might exercise power to alter the current royal succession line, and not just in dealing with the elevation of Prince Salman? Would he welcome his younger brother as King, or would he rather see the leader come from the next generation?

We have read that Prince Muqrin is not motivated by wealth and because of his strong anti-Iranian views may be more willing to use Saudi Arabia’s oil policy as a weapon against its neighbor. Does that mean he would be more willing to endure low oil prices for longer to ensure that the Kingdom’s Islamist enemies’ economies might be truly broken – possibly even leading to the overthrow of their governments? What about social unrest in Saudi in response to reduced government income? If low prices hurt Russia, would that be a problem? What would it mean for Saudi Arabia’s relations with the U.S.? We guess the Obama administration would be happy to have low oil prices for its remaining time in office as it should provide a powerful stimulus for economic growth. Low oil prices might also be welcomed by the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. It would certainly set back the energy self-sufficiency arguments made by the oil and gas industry and many Republican politicians, including some vying for their party’s presidential nomination, and it would hurt the economies of Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, among the handful of leading energy state economies, all states dominated by Republican politicians. 

Eoin Treacy's view

Here is a link to the full report.

When the head of state is 90 one can’t but speculate about succession. When that state is Saudi Arabia, still the most influential oil producer, the stakes rise. As the custodians of Mecca and Medina, the Saudi royal family have a claim to leadership within the Muslin world that no other administration can touch. However it is worth considering that the deeply conservative elements of society that aided the creation of the state also represent a sympathetic ear for forces threatening the nation’s borders. Any new king will face a delicate task in managing the nation’s internal and external challenges. Oil will certainly continue to represent both a tool and weapon in achieving those goals. 

The Saudi Arabian stock market found at least short-term support above its December low last week. While a period of support building will likely be required, following such a precipitous decline since September, a sustained move below 7500 would be required to question the return of demand to dominance. 

The Dubai market has also posted a higher reaction low. 

Having announced that they are willing to accept lower prices for their oil exports, the most powerful parts of the OPEC cartel will likely be slow to change stance, preferring to wait for the full effect of their actions to have an impact on supply. This may take some time since the cancelation of capital expenditure will take a while to filter down. However, considering the issues facing producers such as Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria, Brazil, Colombia and a number of unconventional US producers a reduction in supply is inevitable at current prices.  


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