Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is learning the hard way that barrels of oil with nowhere to go are worth approximately zero. Saudi barrels aren’t worth nothing – yet – but they’re getting close.
On Tuesday, the day after U.S. oil prices actually went negative, Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 25 per cent to US$19 a barrel. A year ago, it was trading at US$70.
In early March, MBS, as the crown prince is known, apparently thought he had figured it all out. He wanted OPEC, which is led by Saudi Arabia, and Russia, an OPEC ally, to cut production to support prices, which were sagging as the novel coronavirus was bursting out of China. Russia said nyet.
MBS didn’t take Russia’s refusal to play well. He broke Saudi Arabia’s alliance with Russia and vowed to open Saudi Aramco’s spigots, flooding the world with oil.
For him, it would be a nice little twofer: Punish Russia and punish the shale-oil industry, whose burgeoning output had transformed the United States into the world’s biggest oil producer and one of its biggest oil exporters. What could go wrong?