|05 April, 2020

Oil prices under pressure from Saudi-Russia dispute, but tariffs provide support

Prices may decline more gradually after Saudi Arabia sent a signal that a production cut deal may be ahead

Flames emerge from flare stacks at Nahr Bin Umar oil field, as a man is seen wearing a protective face mask, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, north of Basra, Iraq March 9, 2020.

Flames emerge from flare stacks at Nahr Bin Umar oil field, as a man is seen wearing a protective face mask, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, north of Basra, Iraq March 9, 2020.

REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani

NEW YORK/LONDON: Global benchmark oil prices are expected to open lower on Monday, but the decline may be muted as the market maintains hope that top crude exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia will strike a deal to curb production at a meeting that was delayed until Thursday.

Prices may decline more gradually after Saudi Arabia sent a signal that a production cut deal may be ahead, and the U.S. has said it will put pressure on Saudi Arabia and its allies for such a deal.

"I don't know that anyone is going to get too aggressively short before the meeting," said Robert McNally, President of Rapidan Energy Group in Bethesda, Maryland.

Saudi Arabia's decision to postpone its posting of the international prices for its crude for the first time indicates that it is not eager to flood the market with low-priced crude before a potential agreement. "That's a pretty clear sign that they are open to cutting production in May," McNally said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he will put tariffs on Saudi and Russian production, potentially accelerating an output cutback. 

"It's possible that a tariff will be bullish initially," said Phil Flynn an analyst at Price Futures group in Chicago. "That could offset the bearishness from the headlines that Saudis and Russians aren't getting along."

OPEC and its allies postponed an emergency meeting scheduled for Monday, led by Saudi Arabia, where the oil cuts could be agreed upon. A senior Saudi source told Reuters on Sunday that the kingdom would now host the meeting via videoconference on Thursday and the delay was to allow more time to bring other producers on board. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin put the blame for the crash in prices on Saudi Arabia on Friday - prompting a response from Riyadh the following day disputing Putin's assertions. 

Crude futures surged for a second day on Friday, with both U.S. and Brent contracts posting their largest weekly percentage gains on record due to hopes that a global deal to cut crude supply worldwide would be struck at talks.

The sharp rebound from weeks of losses came after Trump said Moscow and Riyadh would negotiate to end a price war that slashed prices by more than half last month. "Given the slimmer chances of a deal, prices are likely to give up the gains made last week that were a short-covering rally induced by Trump's comments," said Amrita Sen, co-founder of the Energy Aspects consultancy.

OPEC and its allies are working on a global agreement for an unprecedented oil production cut equivalent to around 10% of worldwide supply in what they expect to be a global effort including countries that do not exert state control over output, such as the United States.

Trump has, however, made no commitment to take the extraordinary step of persuading U.S. companies to cut output.

Per Magnus Nysveen, head of analysis at Rystad Energy, said the decline in global demand because of the coronavirus pandemic and the global lockdowns was larger than the proposed cuts by the OPEC+ alliance.

"It is not strange for the market to hike prices by enthusiasm such as Friday's, but for the levels to stay stable for more than a day or two, it takes concrete developments and deals on the ground," he said.

Saudi Aramco will delay the release of its crude official selling prices (OSP) for May until Friday to wait for the outcome of the meeting between OPEC and its allies regarding possible output cuts, the Saudi source said.

"As Aramco seems to have postponed the release of their official selling prices for May, it seems the kingdom still believes an oil production cut deal is possible," said UBS commodities analyst Giovanni Staunovo.

"The biggest challenge remains how to split up those cuts among producers, particularly if U.S. oil producers will not join with voluntary cuts."

(Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar and Julia Payne; Additional reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Pravin Char, Peter Cooney and Diane Craft) ((Jessica.Resnick-Ault@thomsonreuters.com; 646-223-6052;))

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