Inteligencia y Seguridad Frente Externo En Profundidad Economia y Finanzas Transparencia
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05/10/2006 | Kuwait: Moving to Become an Oil Market-Mover?

Stratfor Staff

Kuwaiti Oil Minister Sheikh Ali Jarrah al-Sabah said Oct. 4 that his country might follow Venezuela and Nigeria in cutting crude oil production to boost prices.

 

Venezuela and Nigeria's reduction did not shock the markets, but al-Sabah's announcement could indicate a larger market shift, threatening Saudi Arabia's status as an oil-market mover. Al-Sabah recently said that Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members want price stability around $60 a barrel. If prices fell to $50 a barrel or below, he said, producers would be concerned.

Venezuela and Nigeria did not shock the markets by cutting their production, since both already are producing below-quota. However, the Kuwaiti statement carries more weight. Kuwait is the third-largest crude producer in OPEC, behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. As of August 2006, it was producing 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd) -- 400,000 barrels more than its OPEC-assigned 2.2 million bpd quota. Hence, Kuwait can afford to act on its threat to cut production.

OPEC members often revise their production quotas to prevent a fall in prices caused by a market glut. However, these quotas are regularly violated to boost national export revenues. OPEC cuts back its production quota only after all its members reach consensus on the issue (such as the 1973 embargo, or following the 1997 Asian financial crisis). Though most OPEC members, including Saudi Arabia, have maintained current production levels, markets are closely watching these most recent developments. No individual OPEC members have ever spoken in favor of reducing exports.

The statements from Caracas, Abuja and Kuwait City betray their desire to become "oil market-movers" -- a title that Saudi Arabia has claimed as its own for years. But Kuwait, aiming to rapidly expand its upstream activities and boost its production to 4 million bpd by 2020, has a better chance of achieving this goal. An Oct. 4 report from the National Bank of Kuwait indicates that Kuwait is on track to reach its largest-ever budget surplus of nearly $24 billion. The financing of future upstream activities is not an issue.

Kuwait's geopolitical position has become less secure since the Iraq war. Kuwaiti border police and Iraqi militants have been clashing, and Iran's growing bellicosity is proving worrisome for Kuwait, which has a significant Shiite minority. The Kuwaitis would feel more secure if they had an extra "lever" on the international stage; being an oil market-mover can fill this role and increase Kuwait's value in the eyes of the United States.

In the short term, Saudi Arabia remains the only oil market-mover because it has the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated at 261 billion barrels, and it is the only major oil producer with any significant spare capacity, estimated at 1.2 million to 1.7 million bpd. Kuwait is not attempting to openly challenge Saudi Arabia, and the two countries tacitly continue to cooperate on oil production. Kuwait is a long way from challenging Saudi Arabia's dominance, but markets will take notice if a Gulf oil exporter chooses to break ranks with the OPEC consensus.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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