The ultimatum that Saudi Arabia and its allies gave to Qatar expired on Monday, and the leaders of the nations participating in the “diplomatic blockade” gathered in Cairo yesterday to discuss the answer by the Gulf state. Investors all over the world were watching carefully, as the event had the outside chance of a significant risk event, with the Irani-Saudi-Turkish power struggle being in the background of the chain of events. The crude oil and natural gas markets are in the forefront of the crisis as well, and the prices of those crucial commodities were closely following the events in the past few weeks.
Qatar Calls the Bluff?
As Qatar dismissed the demands of the Saudi alliance, the blockading nations faced a situation where they needed to show strength without triggering anything that they didn’t want in the first place. Yesterday they decided to “maintain the sanctions” but did not escalate the crisis for now, despite stating that they would take further steps in the appropriate time, and saying that Qatar’s answer lacked any substance whatsoever.
We would say that Qatar “won” this round by reading the signs well, as the superpowers verbally intervened, trying to calm tensions and avoid a regional conflict that could destabilize the energy complex and the whole Middle East. That might be the reason of this kind of pointless ultimatum that first seemed to be a “casus belli” for more drastic measures.
The Oil Price Tango of Saudi Arabia
The OPEC’s oil production cut, that was aimed to stabilize the energy segment is still in jeopardy, as Iran is one of the most crucial players in the deal, as the country is still in the ramp-up phase following the lift of the Western sanctions. On an interesting note, it was precisely Saudi-Arabia who launched a price war against the shale industry in 2016, driving crude prices down below $30 per barrel. Now the kingdom got an unexpected help from the global central banks, in the form of rising yields, as the leveraged players in the rising shale industry already started to curb their expansion as credit conditions started tightening.
What Happens Next?
Oil already staged a strong rally in the face of the risk-off shift of the last few days suggesting that investors are removing their worst case scenario bets that would be the collapse of the fragile OPEC deal. That said, we expect oil to remain rangebound in the coming months, as the supply situation is only partly determined by the OPEC, and the slightly shaky shale industry still gives a flexibilty to global production that was impossible in the previous decades. The 4-week production average of the US tells the story, as in the last couple of years the output
The 4-week production average of the US tells the story, as in the last couple of years the output remarkably followed the moves in the price of oil, while before that there was a very low correlation. That fact should cap the price of the crucial commodity and it is unlikely that we see the per barrel price go over $60 anytime soon, barring a full-blown default wave in the sector.
Who Will Rule the Middle East?
The more pressing issue for the world is the question of the precarious balance of the region that could turn upside down if oil and natural gas prices remain “lower for longer”. With the new leadership of Saudi Arabia, the strong but politically divided Turkey, and the recovering Iran all in for dominance, the Qatar crisis might be an important step towards a solution- for better or worse. But for now, the imminent threat of a major conflict seems to be low, and that could cause a sigh of relief across the globe.
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