Saudi Arabia Can't Afford To Have Oil Prices This Low For Very Long

Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-NaimiREUTERS/Heinz-Peter BaderSaudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi.

Saudi Arabia is playing it close to the chest. 

In a new note, RBC Capital Markets analyst Helima Croft takes a look at both the fiscal and external breakeven crude oil prices for counties across the Middle East.

Fiscal breakeven is the price required for countries to balance their budget, while the external price is what is needed for a country to balance trade.

OPEC’s Thanksgiving decision to keep production unchanged pressured some of OPEC’s more cash-strapped members like Venezuela, but Croft notes that Saudi Arabia, seen as OPEC’s most powerful member, is still facing substantial spending commitments, largely related to an increase in defence spending since 2011.

Croft evaluates breakeven prices assuming Brent crude is around $US70 a barrel. On Thursday, Brent crude was trading closet to $US60. 

But either way, Saudi Arabia is well below its fiscal breakeven price of closer to $US100 a barrel, and Croft adds that if prices persist near $US25 below Saudi Arabia’s breakeven price, its government reserves could be depleted by 2018. 

Amid the decline in oil prices, many have speculated that OPEC — which is interpreted as “Saudi Arabia” — is looking to force US shale producers out of the market. 

But this strategy might not all its cracked up to be. 

As Croft writes, “A policy of trying to permanently price out US shale could prove to be something of a mutually assured destruction strategy.”

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