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As the Emerging Market world looks on helplessly while Saudi Arabia’s war with the U.S. shale complex (and, by extension, with the Fed) serves to keep crude prices depressed putting enormous pressure on commodity currencies and accelerating emerging market outflows, the question is whether Riyadh’s Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) piggy bank can outlast the various capital market lifelines available to America’s largely uneconomic shale drillers.
It’s tempting to simply say “yes.” That is, with the next round of revolver raids due in days and with HY spreads blowing out amid jittery U.S. markets, it seems unlikely that maligned U.S. producers will be able to survive for much longer, and despite the fact that data out yesterday shows Riyadh’s FX reserves falling to a 32-month low, the Saudi war chest still amounts to nearly $700 billion, giving the kingdom plenty of ammo. However, between maintaining subsidies, defending the riyal peg, and fighting two proxy wars, Saudi Arabia’s fiscal situation has deteriorated rapidly, forcing Riyadh to tap the bond market in an effort to help plug a hole that amounts to some 20 percent of GDP.
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Given the above, some have dared to suggest that in fact, the Saudis could lose this “war” just as they may be set to lose their status as regional power broker to Tehran thanks to Iran’s partnership with Moscow in the ongoing effort to shore up Assad in Syria and wrest control of Baghdad from the U.S.
But don’t tell that to Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi who says that despite all the uncertainty, the economics of oil exploration and production will prevail at the end of the day. Here’s Reuters, citing Economic Times:
Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi believes economic producers will prevail over higher-cost suppliers and OPEC's share of the market will rise, India's Economic Times newspaper reported on its website on Monday.
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In comments suggesting Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is sticking to its policy of defending market share rather than supporting prices, Naimi told the paper the drop in oil prices was less of a problem than fluctuations.
"The world needs a reliable, sustainable supply. Best way to do it is to make sure that demand and supply should be equal, so there will not be fluctuation of price. The biggest problem for everybody, producer and consumer today, is fluctuation — the ups and downs," he was quoted as saying.
Referring to reports that the number of drilling rigs deployed by U.S. shale producers is falling, Naimi said: "Eventually, economic producers will continue to prevail," the paper reported.
Naimi disagreed with analysts who believe OPEC's market share would fall further, the paper reported. "On the contrary, OPEC's market share will be higher," he said.
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Maybe so, but make no mistake, this is a precarious time for the Saudis. If the U.S. shale complex finally folds under the weight of its own debt, bad economics, and less forgiving capital markets allowing Riyadh to raise prices again having secured the future of the country's market share, and if Iran and Russia end up being content with preserving the regional balance of power and don't move to push the issue in Iraq and Yemen once they're done "saving" Syria, then the Saudis may well weather the storm.
However, there are quite a few things that can go wrong here that would serve to destabilize the situation and if the rumors about a rebellion within the royal family are true, the slightest misstep could end up being catastrophic.
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