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Oil price ‘to fall to $20’ as Gulf states battle shale drillers in US

The price of Brent fell by $2.24 to a near-six-year low of $45.19.

Oil traders are betting that crude prices will hit a 20-year low of $20 a barrel as prices fell again yesterday and as Gulf producers stood firm on their plan to turn the screws on shale drillers in the United States.

According to Nymex, the New York exchange, the number of contracts or options to sell US crude at $20 in June has jumped from close to zero at the beginning of the year to 13 million barrels of oil.

The data shows how the outlook for prices has deteriorated in a month. At the beginning of December, the most bearish move was the quadrupling of the number of options to sell 880,000 barrels of US crude at $40 for December 2015 in the space of a fortnight. That indicated traders believed that prices would bottom out just below $40 by the end of the year — yet prices have nearly reached that level already.

Yesterday, the price of Brent, the international benchmark for crude, fell by $2.24 to a near-six-year low of $45.19 and traded below West Texas Intermediate, the American benchmark, for the first time since July 2013. Analysts said that the discount on Brent reflected Europe’s weakening economy and expectations that the US ban on crude exports, in place since the oil crisis of the 1970s, would be loosened.

Because of the export ban, the US shale oil boom created a domestic glut of crude that resulted in WTI being heavily discounted against Brent. The discount averaged $6.64 last year. This month the Obama administration finally bowed to pressure from politicians and the industry to relax some restrictions on exports.

Prices slumped again yesterday after the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, ruled out a production cut by Opec. Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazrouei, the UAE’s energy minister, urged non-Opec producers to cut output instead.

In November, Opec, led by the Saudis and its Gulf allies, blocked moves to cut production to prop up prices, which have slumped by 60 per cent from $115 in June last year. The Saudis want to drive prices lower to force rival producers, such as American shale oil companies, which need $80 oil to break even, to scale back on their drilling.

Mr al-Mazrouei showed no sign of backing down over the price war, even though oil prices remain in headlong retreat.

“The strategy will not change,” he said. “We are telling the market and other producers that they need to be rational and, like Opec, they need to look at growth in the international market for oil and need to cater that additional production to that growth”.

He also warned that it “will take some time” for prices to stabilise.

Iran attacked at the Saudis’ stance, warning that the countries behind the oil price collapse would regret it. President Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on state television: “Those that have planned to decrease the prices against other countries, will regret this decision.

“If Iran suffers from the drop in oil prices, know that other oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, will suffer more than Iran.”

• A Saudi billionaire who is one of the world’s biggest corporate investors has claimed that oil prices will never hit $100 a barrel again.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a senior member of the ruling house of Saud and a leading investor in companies including News Corp, the owner of News UK, which publishes The Times, said that the oil price above $100 had been “artificial”.

“If supply stays where it is, and demand remains weak, you better believe it is gonna go down more,” Prince Alwaleed said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo, of Fox Business Network, in USA Today. “But if some supply is taken off the market, and there’s some growth in demand, prices may go up.”

He added that the price war triggered by Saudi Arabia, which is refusing to cut production to ease the global glut, was “prudent, smart and shrewd”.

Source: The Times/UK/OTCEER

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