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Oil in Sudden U-Turn After Trump Touts Production Cuts

By Barani Krishnan 

Investing.com - Can Donald Trump achieve what OPEC itself couldn’t? The U.S. president’s tweets on Thursday that he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to resume production cuts sent a market battered on demand destruction and a supply gut soaring about 25% in early New York trade. But analysts remained skeptical that any cuts achieved will be enough.

"Just spoke to my friend MBS (Crown Prince) of Saudi Arabia, who spoke with President Putin of Russia,&I expect&hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10 Million Barrels, and maybe substantially more which, if it happens, will be GREAT for the oil&gas industry!" Trump said in his first of two tweets on the matter.

His subsequent tweet read: “....Could be as high as 15 Million Barrels. Good (GREAT) news for everyone!”

West Texas Intermediate, the New York-traded benchmark for U.S. crude, was up $5.01, or nearly 25%, at $25.32 per barrel by 12:57 PM ET (16:57 GMT), responding to Trump’s remarks. It hit a session high of $27.30 earlier. Just on Monday, WTI hit 18-year lows of $19.27.

Brent, the London-traded global benchmark for crude, rose $5.43, or 22%, at $30.17 per barrel. The session high was $35.99.

Oil prices have been having their worst year from demand destruction caused by the coronavirus crisis and a collapse in the production cut pact between Saudi Arabia and Russia under the OPEC+ initiative. WTI had lost 66% in the first quarter and Brent 61%.

Some analysts had trouble though with the production cut numbers espoused by Trump.

“Obviously not a whole lot of details here (is this 10 million barrels PER DAY?),” said Ellen Wald, president of Transversal Consulting and an oil columnist for Investing.com. “Is it spread across OPEC+? Etc?”

Others were skeptical of what any agreement would do for supply-demand of oil, with the market widely believed to be imbalanced by a daily glut of some 20 million barrels.

“The market was hyper-bearish to begin with, so definitely this has taken prices through the roof,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital. “It’s not going to offset the demand destruction that’s coming.”

The Saudi Press Agency in a series of tweets, confirmed the talks between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. It also said MBS’ father, King Salman, had requested the enlarged OPEC+ group, that includes ally Russia, to gather for a new discussion on how to support the market amid the demand destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Kingdom calls for an urgent meeting for OPEC+ states and another group of countries, with aim of reaching a fair solution to restore a desire balance of the oil markets,” the press agency tweeted. “This invitation comes within (the) framework of the Kingdom's constant efforts to support the global economy in this exceptional circumstance, and in appreciation of the US President's request and the US friends' request.”

The Saudi response to Trump came a day after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Russia said President Vladimir Putin has no immediate plans to have a phone call with Saudi leadership. But such talks could be set up quickly if necessary, Peskov added.

Putin originally spoke to King Salman more than a month back before deciding not to extend Russia’s cooperation under the OPEC+ arrangement, which began in 2016 and had been renewed twice before being suspended in early March.

An enraged Saudi Arabia has since ramped up its production, aiming to hit a record 12.3 million barrels per day from this month onward, or 30% above March levels. It has also slashed the selling price of its crude in an apparent bid to poach clients from Russian and U.S. oil exporters.

The production-hike-and-price-cut war has proven disastrous for U.S. shale oil drillers, many of whom produce a barrel at or above $35. On Wednesday, Whiting Petroleum, one of the largest drillers in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, filed for bankruptcy protection, becoming the first sizable fracking company to succumb to the Covid-19-induced oil price crash. Industry experts said they expect more U.S. shale bankruptcies unless prices recover fast.

Trump’s tweets on Thursday seemed to be in response to shale’s urgent need for market recovery. The president is scheduled to the heads of some of the largest U.S. oil companies to discuss measures to help the industry as it fights for survival. The Wall Street Journal said the chief executives of Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM). and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) were expected to attend, along with the CEO of shale driller Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR), Harold Hamm, who originally called for Trump’s intervention in the Saudi-Russian price war. 

The Journal’s Middle East correspondent Summer Said tweeted separately that Saudi Arabia was mulling an oil output reduction to below 9 million barrels per day — that would take it back to levels below its recent production hike — if others joined in the effort.

Said also tweeted that the Saudis want U.S., Canadian, Mexican and other oil producers in the G20 to join in any cuts.

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