¿Cuáles son las verdaderas causas del ridículo valor del precio del petróleo en estos días? Sí, es verdad que hay una depresión global en curso; sí, es verdad que hay sobreoferta, sobre todo desde el reingreso de Irán al mercado petrolero y gasífero; sí, hay operaciones (sauditas) en curso contra los productores (estadounidenses) de “shale oil”. Pero todo tiene un límite, chicos: el barril NO puede valer 20 dólares.
Tres artículos recientes hacen jugar un cuarto factor en torno a la súbita baja del petróleo: la especulación financiera de actores selectos del sistema. El primero de ellos viene del sitio web Global Research; se trata de una sugestiva nota de William Engdahl. La segunda nota es de Mijaíl Leóntiev y apareció estos días en Red Voltaire. La última es de Pepe Escobar y fue publicada anteayer en el sitio web Strategic Culture Foundation. Vayamos a las notas:
Título: What’s Really Going on with Oil?
Epígrafe: If there is any single price of any commodity that determines the growth or slowdown of our economy, it is the price of crude oil. Too many things don’t calculate today in regard to the dramatic fall in the world oil price. In June 2014 major oil traded at $103 a barrel. With some experience following the geopolitics of oil and oil markets, I smell a big skunk. Let me share some things that for me don’t add up.
Texto: On January 15 the US benchmark oil price, WTI (West Texas Intermediate), closed trading at $29, the lowest since 2004. True, there’s a glut of at least some 1 million barrels a day overproduction in the world and that’s been the case for over a year.
True, the lifting of Iran sanctions will bring new oil on to a glutted market, adding to the downward price pressure of the present market.
However, days before US and EU sanctions were lifted on Iran on January 17, Seyyid Mohsen Ghamsari, the head of international affairs at National Iranian Oil Company stated that Iran, “…will try to enter the market in a way to make sure the boosted production will not cause a further drop in prices…We will be producing as much as the market can absorb.” So the new entry of Iran post-sanctions onto world oil markets is not the cause for the sharp oil fall since January 1.
Also not true is that oil import demand from China has collapsed with a supposed collapse of China’s economy. In the year to November 2015 China imported more, significantly more, 8.9% more, year on year, to 6.6 million barrels a day to become the world’s largest oil importer.
Add to the boiling cauldron that constitutes today’s world oil market the political risk that has been building dramatically since September, 2015 and the Russian decision to come to the call of Syria’s legitimately elected President, Bashar al Assad with formidable airstrikes against terrorist infrastructure. Add as well the dramatic break in relations between Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s Turkey and Moscow since Turkey, a NATO member, committed a brazen act of war by shooting down a Russian fighter jet over Syrian airspace. All of this would suggest prices of oil should be going up, not down.
Saudi’s Strategic Eastern Province
Then, for good measure, throw in the insanely provocative decision by Saudi Defense Minister and de facto king, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to execute Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Saudi citizen. Al-Nimr, a respected Shi’ite religious leader was charged with terrorism for calling in 2011 for more rights for Saudi Shi’ites. There are approximately 8 million Saudi Muslims loyal to Shi’ite teachings rather that the ultra-strict Wahhabi Sunni strain. His crime was to support protests calling for more rights for the oppressed Shia minority, perhaps some 25% of the Saudi population. The Shi’ite population of Saudis is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province.
The Eastern Province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most valuable piece of real estate on the planet, double the area of the Federal Republic of Germany but with a mere 4 million people. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company is based in Dhahran in the Eastern Province.
The main Saudi oil and gas fields are mostly in the Eastern Province, onshore and offshore, including the world’s largest oil field, Ghawar. Petroleum from the Saudi fields, including Ghawar, is shipped to dozens of countries from the oil port terminal of the the Ras Tanura complex, the world’s biggest crude oil terminal. Some 80% of the near 10 million barrels of oil a day pumped out by Saudi goes to Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf where it is loaded on to supertankers bound for the west.
The Eastern Province is also home to Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq Plants facility, their biggest oil processing and crude stabilization facility with a capacity of 7 million barrels per day. It’s the primary oil processing site for Arabian extra light and Arabian light crude oils, and handles crude oil pumped from Ghawar field.
And it also happens that the majority of oil field and refinery blue collar workers in of the Eastern Province are…Shi’ite. They are said also to be sympathetic to the just-executed Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. In the late 1980’s the Saudi Hezbollah Al-Hejaz, led several attacks on oil infrastructure and also murdered Saudi diplomats. They were allegedly trained in Iran.
And now there is a new destabilizing element to add to the political tensions building between Saudi Arabia and Erdogan’s Turkey on the one side, flanked by servile Arab Gulf Cooperation Council states, and on the other Assad’s Syria, Iraq with a 60% Shi’ite population and neighboring Iran, aided presently militarily by Russia. Reports are that the instable 30-year old Prince bin Salman is about to me named King.
On January 13, the Gulf Institute, a Middle East think tank, in an exclusive report, wrote that 80-year old Saudi King Salman Al-Saud plans to abdicate his throne and install his son Mohammed as king. They report that the present King “has been making the rounds visiting his brothers seeking support for the move that will also remove the current crown prince and American favorite, the hardline Mohammed bin Naif, from his positions as the crown prince and the minister of interior. According to sources familiar with the proceedings, Salman told his brothers that the stability of the Saudi monarchy requires a change of the succession from lateral or diagonal lines to a vertical order under which the king hands power to his most eligible son.”
On December 3, 2015, the German BND intelligence service leaked a memo to the press warning of the increasing power being acquired by Prince Salman, someone they characterized as unpredictable and emotional. Citing the kingdom’s involvement in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen, the BND stated, referring to Prince Salman, “The previous cautious diplomatic stance of older leaders within the royal family is being replaced by a new impulsive policy of intervention.”
Yet oil prices fall?
The ominous element in this more than ominous situation revolving around the center of world petroleum and natural gas reserves, the Middle East, is the fact that in the recent weeks oil prices, which had temporarily stabilized at an already low $40 range in December, now have plunged another 25% to around $29, outlook grim. Citigroup has forecast $20 oil is possible. Goldman Sachs recently came out saying that it may take lows of $20 a barrel to restabilize world oil markets and get rid of the glut of supply.
Now I have a strong gut feeling that there is something very big, very dramatic building in world oil markets over the coming several months, something most of the world doesn’t expect.
The last time Goldman Sachs and their Wall Street cronies made a dramatic prediction in oil prices was in summer 2008. At that time, amid the growing pressures on Wall Street banks of the spreading US sub-prime real estate meltdown, just before the Lehman Brothers collapse of September that year, Goldman Sachs wrote that oil was headed for $200 a barrel. It had just hit a high of $147.
At that time I wrote an analysis saying just the opposite was likely, based on the fact that there was a huge oversupply in world oil markets that curiously, was only being identified by Lehman Brothers. I was told by an informed Chinese source that Wall Street banks like JP Morgan Chase were hyping the $200 price to convince Air China and other big China state oil buyers to buy every drop of oil at $147 it could before it hit $200, an advice that fed the rising price.
Then by December, 2008 the Brent benchmark oil price was down to $47 a barrel. The Lehman Crisis, a deliberate political decision of US Treasury Secretary a former Goldman Sachs chairman, Henry Paulsen, in September 2008, plunged the world into financial crisis and deep recession in the meantime. Did Paulsen’s cronies at Goldman Sachs and other key Wall Street mega-banks such as Citigroup or JP Morgan Chase know in advance that Paulsen was planning the Lehman crisis to force Congress to give him carte blanche bailout powers with the unprecedented TARP funds of $700 billion? In the event, Goldman Sachs and friends reportedly made a gigantic profit betting against their own $200 predictions using leveraged derivatives in oil futures.
Killing the shale oil ‘cowboys’ first
Today the US shale oil industry, the largest source of risíng US oil output since 2009 or so, is hanging by its fingernails on the edge of a cliff of massive bankruptcies. In recent months shale oil production has barely begun to decline, some 93,000 barrels in November, 2015.
The Big Oil cartel–ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell–began dumping their shale leases onto the market two years ago. The shale oil industry in the US today is dominated by what BP or Exxon refer to as “the cowboys,” mid-sized aggressive oil companies, not the majors. Wall Street banks like JP Morgan Chase or Citigroup who historically finance Big Oil, as well as Big Oil itself, clearly would shed no tears at this point were the shale boom to bust, leaving them again in control of the world’s most important market. The financial institutions who lent hundreds of billions of dollars to the shale “cowboys” in the past five years have their next semi-annual loan review in April. With prices hovering at or near the $20 range, we can expect a new, far more serious wave of actual shale oil company bankruptcies. Unconventional oil, including Canada’s huge Alberta Tar Sands oil will soon be a thing of the past, if so.
That alone will not restore oil to the $70-90 levels that the big oil industry players and their Wall Street banks would find comfortable. The glut coming out of the Middle East from Saudi Arabia and her Gulf Arab allies has to be dramatically cut. Yet Saudis show no sign of doing so. This is what disturbs me about the entire picture.
Is something very ugly brewing in the Persian Gulf that will dramatically push oil prices up later this year? Is a real shooting war between Shi’ite and Saudi Wahhabi oil states brewing? Until now it has been a proxy war in Syria primarily. Since the execution of the Shi’ite cleric and Iranian storming of the Saudi Embassy in Teheran, leading to a break in diplomatic ties by Saudi and other Sunni Gulf Arab states, the confrontation has become far more direct. Dr. Hossein Askari, former adviser to the Saudi Finance Ministry, stated, “If there is a war confronting Iran and Saudi Arabia, oil could overnight go to above $250, but decline back down to the $100 level. If they attack each other’s loading facilities, then we could see oil spike to over $500 and stay around there for some time depending on the extent of the damage.”
Everything tells me that the world is in for another big oil shock. It seems it’s almost always about oil. As Henry Kissinger reportedly said back during another oil shock in the mid-1970’s when Europe and the US faced an OPEC oil embargo and long lines at the gas pumps, “If you control the oil, you control entire nations.” That obsession with control is rapidly destroying our civilization. It’s time to focus on peace and development, not on competing to be the biggest oil mogul on the planet.
Título: Goldman Sachs baja el precio del petróleo
Epígrafe: “Debemos prepararnos para el peor escenario, y será un placer equivocarse” es el leitmotiv de prácticamente todos los grandes newsmakers. A su vez es evidente que el cartel de la OPEP, creado para defender a los productores de petróleo, se encuentra en una situación muy difícil como consecuencia de los juegos con el petróleo. Quizás los miembros del cartel comprendieron que mantener los precios del petróleo altos significa ayudar a sus competidores del petróleo de esquistos, o quizás decidieron que es mejor producir a bajo precio que no producir nada. Observando el pánico de los mercados, Mijaíl Leóntiev notó que los pronósticos más pesimistas son dados por sus jugadores más activos.
Texto: Los precios del petróleo se acercan a cero inconteniblemente ante la expectativa de la desaceleración de China, la inundación del petróleo iraní y, en general, por el salvaje incremento de la oferta sobre la demanda, como nos tratan de convencer. El crudo Brent cayó por debajo de los 30 dólares por barril y sigue bajando. A su vez el valor de la cesta petrolera de la OPEP se encuentra en 25 dólares, la mexicana Pemex vende el petróleo con pérdidas de un dólar por cada barril, el crudo canadiense llego a los 15 dólares. “Nuestro negocio está muriendo de raíz”, cita Wall Street Journal al propietario de una petrolera de Illinois. El diario menciona a los analíticos de Barclays, quienes esperan que este año se reduzcan los gastos del sector en 20% luego de que ellos ya se redujeron en un cuarto el año pasado.
La curva de caída de los precios del petróleo suavizada respecto a las oscilaciones corrientes representa, en esencia, una línea recta desde setiembre del año pasado, cuando los precios se derrumbaron de 50 dólares por barril a los actuales 29 dólares. ¿Pero qué suceso fatídico aconteció en el mercado mundial en setiembre? Ese mes Goldman Sachs redujo las expectativas del precio promedio del petróleo para el 2016 al asumir que caería hasta los 20 dólares por barril. Las “expectativas” de Goldman Sachs fueron apoyadas por Merrill Lynch, Bak of America y otros.
Así pues, los 20 dólares de Goldman Sachs no son un pronóstico. Son una guia. Nuestro Ministerio de Economía hace pronósticos, Goldman Sach hace el mercado.
El mércado del petróleo no es un mercado de materia prima. Los contratos entregables de petróleo real constituyen el 2% del mercado, el resto son papeles especulativos, futuros y otros derivados financieros. Los precios de los futuros no los determinan la relación de oferta y demanda, sino las “expectativas”. El mercado de futuros está completamente controlado por los mayores bancos estadounidenses. Y ése es el mercado de expectativas, para lo que se creo la verdadera “industria de las expectativas”, generada por las famosas agencias de rating, los expertos “independientes” y los medios de comunicación.
Como decía el héroe de la película El vendedor de aire: “Estoy seguro de que nunca seré un comerciante. Pero puedo decir que muy pronto el producto más vendido serán las coronas funerales. Dentro de muy poco el aire derribará el oro. El aire será la divisa de mayor demanda en la historia. ¿Entiende ahora hacia donde puja nuestro honorable jefe? Morgan, Rockefeller y todos los Fords juntos.”
Este milagroso mecanismo de manejo de las expectativas permite alimentar el mercado una vez tras otra con las mismas mantras podridas. Así, recordemos que la causa básica de la caída de los precios del petróleo fue la revolución del esquisto en Estados Unidos, que le permitió aumentar su producción al doble.
El total de plataformas de perforación activas en Estados Unidos se reduce constantemente, llegando al día de hoy a los 2/3 del máximo en 2014. Entre tanto hasta hace poco la producción se mantenía en un nivel estable, alrededor de 9,2 millones de barriles diarios.
Éste es el fenómeno del esquisto estadounidense, al que cualquier precio le es indiferente, es más no necesitan siquiera perforar. Como decía el clásico ruso Saltykov-Schedrín: “Da igual, parirán, gritaban ellos embriagados de orgullo.” Realmente, el juego de los bancos con los créditos, que permite a las compañías dedicadas al petróleo de esquistos tenerse a flote hasta lo último, mantiene la producción estadounidense. Y es que la caída de la producción estadounidense es capaz de romper todo el juego. Sin embargo, ningún juego de este tipo sería posible sin un genio.
Desde el inicio de la caída de los precios Arabia Saudita declaró que no piensa reducir la producción, lo que paralizó completamente la actividad de la OPEP en cuanto al control del mercado. Desde ese momento cada declaración de los representantes de la monarquía empujaba más abajo los precios. Por otro lado, Arabia Saudita concluyó el año con un déficit de su presupuesto de 100 000 millones de dólares, y la producción real se contrajo en el último medio año en 400 mil barriles al día. Esto es cerca del 4% de la producción saudita. “Satisfaceremos la demanda de los consumidores, no vamos más a limitar la producción”, declaró a inicios de enero el ministro de petróleo de Arabaia Saudita. El “genio”, claro está, puede hacer magia, pero no sobreestimemos su soberanía, pues para cada genio siempre habrá un Aladino.
“El precio del petróleo se estabilizará para finales de año y alcanzará los 50 dólares por barril”, declaró el jueves la directora del departamento de Frankfurt de Goldman Sachs. Como de costumbre ella relacionó la caída de los precios con la desaceleración del crecimiento de China y la disminución de la demanda.
Finalmente esto es delatarse. Si el “truco” está en la desaceleración de China, ¡¿de dónde sacaron que para finales de año de repente comenzará a crecer?! Cada juego especulativo puede ser exitoso si se detiene a tiempo. Parece que ya es hora.
Título: Planet of Fear
Texto: Facing the gleaming Doha skyline on a Persian Gulf winter carries the merit of a panoramic perspective. Most nations around it are going into melt down and the remaining ones – with the exception of Iran – exhibit neither the political leadership nor the economic and institutional infrastructure to do anything other than to meekly accept whatever tsunami hits their shores. They are nothing but scared spectators.
The Empire of Chaos has enough warmongering hardware pre-positioned within spitting distance to turn the whole of Southwest Asia into ashes – as a gaggle of usual suspects in the Beltway, neocon or neoliberalcon, still can’t find a cure to their itching to «really win the next war» in a sort of exponential Shock and Awe.
Fear reigns supreme. Jim Rickards, the author of Currency Wars, economist and CIA asset, has just released a new book, The Big Drop, with a pretty grim message. For his part Jim Rogers, a.k.a. the «Sage of Singapore», most of the time China-bound informing the Chinese elite where to place their investments, holds on to a nuanced perspective on the West blaming all the current global economy turmoil on China.
According to Rogers, «yes, China is slowing. But mostly the world is doing so. Japan, one of China’s largest trading partners is officially in recession. Much of Europe is worse. The US stock market was down in 2015 while the Chinese stock market was one of the strongest in the world».
Rogers adds, «things are going to get worse worldwide so everyone will suffer and is to ‘blame’. The original source is the US Federal Reserve and its ludicrous, artificial interest rates caused by massive money printing which the world has copied. Throw in staggering debt increases by the US government [which the world has also copied] and there will soon be hell to pay».
So no wonder apocalyptic war rumors are the new normal – even as old timers boost their case for «only» a «good old-fashioned world war», as if nuclear exchanges wouldn’t be part of the equation. A few sound minds in the Atlanticist axis worry that if Il Duce Trump wins the next US presidential election, that translates into guaranteed bankruptcy for the US, and – what else – war if Il Trumpissimo implements half of what he’s boasting about.
Short all the oil you can
The Davos annual talkfest is about to begin; that’s one of those occasions when the Masters of the Universe – who usually decide everything behind closed doors – send their minions to «debate» the future of their holdings. The current debate centers on whether we are still in the midst of the Third – digitalized – Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things or whether we’re already entering the Fourth.
In the real world though all the cackle is about the age of old-fashioned oil. Which brings us to the myriad effects of the cheap oil strategy deployed by the House of Saud under Washington’s command.
Persian Gulf traders, off the record, are adamant that there is no longer any real global oil surplus of consequence as all shut-in oil has been dumped on the market based on that Washington command.
Petroleum Intelligence Weekly estimates the surplus is at a maximum 2.2 million a day, plus 600,000 barrels a day coming from Iran later this year. The US consumption of oil – at 19,840,000 barrels a day, 20% of world production – has not increased; it’s the other 80% that have been mostly absorbing the dumped oil.
Some key Persian Gulf traders are adamant that oil should be surging by the second half of 2016. That explains why Russia is not panicking with oil plunging towards $30 a barrel. Moscow is very much aware of the «partners» that are carrying oil market manipulation against Russia, and at the same time is anticipating this won’t last too long.
That explains why Russia's Deputy Finance Minister Maxim Oreshkin issued a sort of «keep calm and carry on» message; he expects oil prices to remain in the $40-60 range for at least the next seven years, and Russia can live with that.
The Masters of the Universe – just like the Russians – have realized their oil manipulation cannot last. Hysteria, predictably, took over. That’s why they ordered major Wall Street firms to short oil using cash settlement. Compliant US corporate media was ordered to spin the shortfalls will last forever. The target is to drive down the price of a barrel of oil to $7 if possible.
The original Masters of the Universe strategy would eventually lead to regime change in Russia and the usual oligarch suspects back in the saddle re-conducting the massive looting operation Russia suffered during the 1990s.
A fearful House of Saud is a mere pawn in this strategy. Assuming the plan would work, the House of Saud under – virtually demented – King Salman, now confined to a room in his Riyadh palace, would also be regime-changed, via Saudi military officers trained in the West and recruited by Western agents. As a bonus, the Islamic Republic of Iran would also collapse, with «moderates» (rebels?) taking control.
So the Masters of the Universe strategy essentially boils down to regime-change in Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, leading to Exceptionalistan-friendly elites/vassals; in sum, the ultimate chapter in the global Resource Wars. Yet what this is yielding so far is the House of Saud having absolutely no clue of what may happen to them; Riyadh royals may think that they are undermining both Iran and Russia, but in the end they may be only accelerating their own demise.
Losing my religion
In Europe, it’s as if we’re back to 1977 when The Stranglers sang No More Heroes. Now, no more heroes and no more ideals. Even as some of European youth’s best and brightest have tried to fight the immense violence of neoliberalism, via alter-globalization, the poorest among the young are now mired in violence and suicidal nihilism – extreme Wahhabism which they've learned online. Yet this has nothing to do with Islam, and it’s not a war of religion, as myriad extreme-right parties across Europe routinely insist.
All across the spectrum, driven by fear, the toxic mix of political and economic instability continues to spread, leading quite a few insiders to wonder whether both the Fed and the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing don't really know what’s happening.
And that once again feeds the warmongering hordes, for which that «good old-fashioned world war» is the easiest ticket out. Cancel all the old debt; issue loads of new debt; turn ploughshares and iPhones into cannons. And after a little thermonuclear exchange, welcome to full employment and a new (waste)land of opportunity.
It’s in this context that, under the volcano, surfaces an essay by Guido Preparata, an Italian-American political economist now based as a scholar in the Vatican. In The Political Economy of Hyper-Modernity, soon to appear in an anthology published by Palgrave/Macmillan, Preparata offers an account of the last 70 years of US/international monetary dynamics/history by using a single indicator: the overall US balance of payments – which has not been released since 1975.
Yet the most important conclusion in the essay seems to be that «the neoliberal engine, which has had to run mostly on domestic fuel, has shown… appreciable resilience». The US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, «together» managed to erect a «wall of money».
And yet «US technocrats seem to have grown disillusioned with the neoliberal machine». So, «as a momentous alternative, the technocrats have called for some kind of ‘global rebalancing’». The US-led system «seems to be transitioning to a neo-mercantilist regime». And the answer is the TPP (The Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) trade agreements that, together, «will place the United States at the center of an open trade zone representing around two-thirds of global economic output».
This would imply, ultimately, a sort of Make Trade, Not War endgame. So why so much fear? That’s because in the internal battle raging among the Masters of the Universe, the freewheeling neoliberalcons have not yet imprinted the last word. So beware the Falcons of War.