I believe we can easily get up to 11.4, 11.8 (million barrels a day) almost immediately, in a few days, because all we need is to turn valves," Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told CNN's John Defterios. "Now to get to the next 700 or so, we probably need about 90 days."and oil prices:
When asked about whether Saudi Arabia could make up for Iran's exports of 2.2 million barrels a day, al-Naimi said the country has a spare capacity "to respond to emergencies worldwide, to respond to our customer demand, and that is really the focus. Our focus is not on who drops out from production, but who wants more."
"Our wish and hope is we can stabilize this oil price and keep it at a level around $100" for the average barrel of crude, al-Naimi said.A good deal of attention has been paid to the second comment since previously the Saudis had said they were comfortable with an oil price of around $75.
Kevin Drum is sceptical of Mr al-Naimi:
This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, so I'd like to offer an alternative explanation. Here it is: Neither the Saudis, nor anyone else, control the price of oil anymore. Saudi Arabia has very little spare capacity to speak of, and couldn't open the taps to bring the price of oil down even if it wanted to. So no matter what the price of oil is, that's approximately the price the Saudis say is fair. That way they don't have to admit that they no longer have the ability to seriously affect oil price movements.Now I generally yield to no man when it comes to skepticism of Mr al-Naimi. And I continue to wonder why, if Saudi Arabia can just turn the valves to 11.8mbd, it was apparently not producing 10mbd when Mr al-Naimi said it would late last year.
This, by the way, is the same dynamic at work in OPEC meetings. They meet, they talk, and then they release a statement saying that they aren't going to increase production quotas because the current price is fair and "customers aren't asking for more oil." Well, of course they aren't. By definition, customers aren't asking for more oil as long as oil is selling at the market-clearing price. Which it is. Because if it's not, then the price goes up, and guess what? Markets clear and customers aren't asking for more oil. Nonetheless, this charade regularly gets played out anyway, because OPEC doesn't want to admit that their production quotas are mostly meaningless these days. With occasional exceptions (when the 2008-09 recession temporarily cratered oil demand, for example) OPEC countries are all pumping flat out and couldn't deliver much more oil if they tried.
Bottom line: be suspicious of any explanation that suggests OPEC or Saudi Arabia or anyone else "wants" oil prices to be at a particular level. There was a time when they really did, and when their opinions mattered. But that time is long gone.
However, I do think his comments might have one point of significance. If you are betting on oil prices falling at the moment (for example if you judge that a European recession and a Chinese slowdown will put a crimp in demand), then you've got to be very aware that during the last recession Saudi Arabia (with a few key OPEC allies) cut production sharply at the end of 2008:
in order to support prices:
After falling as low as $40 in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Saudi production cuts brought them back to around $70 give or take - fairly consistent with the $75 that King Abdullah had said was a fair price in November 2008.
So, now, in betting against oil prices you'd have to worry that the one power Saudi Arabia does have is to make sure that oil prices don't go far under $100 for very long. Since Brent is about $110 as of this writing, that leaves a lot more room for it to increase than to decrease.