The first reason is the most obvious:
Courtesy of the spreading coronavirus epidemic, best guess is nearly half of the Chinese workforce is still off-line this week, and much of China’s industrial plant remains shut-down due to quarantine efforts – most notably in the industrial heartlands of the Yangtze Valley and the Pearl River Delta. China is undoubtedly going to suffer a real
recession this year, which will absolutely impact manufacturing supply chains
as well as the supply of consumer products globally in the second and third quarters. Chinese oil demand has probably dropped about 2 million barrels per day.
Avoiding additional widespread infections throughout the rest of China is probably statistically impossible at this point, and it is spreading globally like, well, a virus. Iran, Italy, Switzerland and South Korea have robust epidemics that have erupted in just the past two weeks. Follow-on epidemics are all but certain in France, Germany, the United States, Canada and, well, nearly everywhere else later this month and into April. The virus tends to hit less harshly than a cold in 6 out of 7 cases and is not particularly lethal if you are under age 70 and otherwise healthy, so CALM DOWN
, but for everyone’s sake follow normal sanity about exposure and hygiene. Following sanity means less movement and travel and interaction and since oil is the fuel of transport, that means less oil gets used. Everywhere.
The second reason is more…colorful. Riyadh and Moscow have rarely gotten along, with their biggest big blow-up occurring at the instigation of none other than Ronald Reagan. In the mid-1980s the Saudis expanded oil output in order to wreck the overextended finances of the Soviet Union. It was part of a collage of factors which heralded the Soviet collapse. With the Russians increasingly active in Iran and Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, the Saudis have plenty of reasons to dust off an old tool and whap the Russians on the face.
The third reason is more…personal. With the Americans stepping back from the world, the Saudis are finding themselves facing off against the Iranians without the American buffer between them. The Trump administration’s anti-Iranian sanctions are strangling the Iranian economy, an economy that survives on oil exports. Shrinking what little income Iran is still getting via a price war isn’t a dumb move.
The fourth reason is simple economics. Saudi Arabia is annoyed not simply by Iran and Russia, but other oil producers which range from Venezuela to Ecuador to Libya to Nigeria to Angola to Norway to Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan to…American shale. Saudi Arabia has lower production costs than them all. Anything that takes the snuff out of the competition is something that’ll make the Saudis smile. Of all of these, U.S. shale will bounce back fastest, but there will be a lot of bankruptcies and consolidation between here and there. Other countries will face outcomes far
The final reason is less about economics and local strategy and more about resetting Saudi Arabia’s position in the world. The Syrian Civil War is in its final chapter. The Iranians and Russians are on the winning side…while the Saudis are on the losing side. If Russian-Saudi relations are already deteriorating, it doesn’t take much of a push for the Saudis to remind the Russians (and everyone else) that there is another field of competition – one in which the Saudis excel and the Russians (and everyone else) do not.