Two men enter, one man leaves, two men enter, one man leaves, two men enter... Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
November 27, oil consuming countries will celebrate the first anniversary of the Saudi decision to let market forces determine prices. This decision set crude prices on a downward path. Subsequently, to defend market share, the Saudis increased production, which exacerbated market oversupply and further pressured prices.
While the sharp decline in crude prices has saved crude consuming nations hundreds of billions of dollars, the loss in revenues has caused crude exporting countries intense economic and financial pain. Their suffering has led some to call for a change in strategy to "balance" the market and boost prices. Venezuela, an OPEC member, has even proposed an emergency summit meeting.
In practice, the call for a change is a call for Saudi Arabia and Russia, the two dominant global crude exporters, which each daily export over seven-plus mmbbls (including condensates and NGLs) and which each see the other as the key to any "balancing" moves, to bear the brunt of any production cuts.
Both, it would seem, have incentive to do so, as each has lost over $100 billion in crude revenues in 2015-and Russia bears the extra burden of U.S. and EU Ukraine-related economic and financial sanctions. Yet, while both publicly profess willingness to discuss market conditions, neither has shown any real inclination to reduce output-in fact, both countries seem committed to keeping their feet pressed to their crude output pedals. In the course of 2015, both have raised output and exports over 2014 levels-Saudi Arabia by ~500 and 550~ mbbls/day respectively and Russia by ~100 and ~150. The Saudis have repeatedly cut pricing to undercut competitors to maintain market share in the critical U.S. and China markets, while the Russian Finance Ministry recently backed away from a tax proposal which Russian crude producers said would reduce their output.
This apparent bravado notwithstanding, the two countries' entry into the low-price Crudedome is ravaging their economies. Should crude prices decline from current levels, or even just stagnate, it is possible neither country will exit the CrudeDome under its own power.
IMF WEO data: recessions as far as the eyes can see
Both Saudi Arabia and Russia paint positive portraits on current and future economic performance. At a conference in Moscow on October 14, President Putin said that Russia had reached if not passed the peak of its economic crisis and predicted economic growth in coming years. Arab News announced in the first paragraph of its report on Q2 Saudi economic performance that Q2 GDP grew 3.79 percent year-over-year, up from 2.3 percent growth in Q1.
Yet IMF October 2015 and April 2015 World Economic Outlook projections for the Russian and Saudi economies a paint pessimistic portrait, as the following three tables, forecasting GDP through 2020 in current prices/national currency, constant prices/national currency, and current prices/US$ show (all data in billions).
- In each of the data series, except the April and October ones, Russian current prices/national currency and the Saudi constant prices/national currency series, GDP declines from 2014 to 2015. (When adjusted for estimated inflation, however, the forecasts for Russian GDP current prices/national currency show GDP declining from 2014 levels-to 64,039 billion Rubles given inflation of 17.943 percent in the April series; in the October series, to 64,463 billion rubles, given inflation of 15.789 percent. The growth shown in the Saudi constant prices/national currency series results from the reduction in the deflator, which the Saudi National Statistical Office, Central Department of Statistics and Information uses to convert current national currency GDP into constant national currency. For example, decreasing the deflator from 115.073 to 94.234 in the October series and to 97.066 from 115.889 in the April series turns a decrease in GDP in current prices into an increase in GDP in constant prices).
- Between the April and the October forecasts in most of the data series, GDP deteriorates (blue font). Crude prices bear much of the responsibility: the April forecasts were based on $58.14 and $65.65 per barrel oil in 2015 and 2016 respectively, while the October projections are based $51.62 and $50.36 respectively.
- The year in which GDP exceeds 2014 GDP is noted in red font. As a result of the deterioration in GDP forecasts between April and October in the Saudi current prices/national currency series, GDP does not exceed 2014 GDP until 2018 instead of 2017; in the Russian current prices, US$ series, GDP exceeds 2014 level after 2020 instead of 2019; in the Saudi current prices/US$, the recovery is pushed to 2018 from 2017. (In inflation adjusted terms, Russian GDP in current prices, national currency would be below 2015 levels in 2020).