Last week, OPEC held a regularly scheduled meeting, and for the first time in a while, its members walked away with an agreement to cut production.
In this segment from Industry Focus: Energy, Sean O'Reilly and Taylor Muckerman explain how much the cut, if it goes through, would mean compared to the daily global production of oil today. Also, the hosts talk about why the agreement has meaning beyond the possible reduction in crude pumped by cartel members, and how this agreement compares to OPEC members' decision to produce at will in November 2014.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Sept. 29, 2016.
Sean O'Reilly: Stop the presses: OPEC agreed to, on a preliminary basis, cut production. What?!
Taylor Muckerman: Yeah, that's what they said. There's no details.
O'Reilly: There were a few, to be fair.
Muckerman: Well, there are some estimates.
O'Reilly: Let's take a step back. OPEC surprised everybody yesterday, sent oil up 5% to 6%. They had been talking down these discussions in Algiers for one or two weeks -- "We want to cut, but this is just preliminary, we don't expect to decide anything." Russia and Iran talked it down, Saudi talked it up. It's a little verbal chess game. Then, yesterday [it] hits the wires that they agreed to a preliminary cut. Details are going to be announced in a month.
Muckerman: Nov. 30.
O'Reilly: The symmetry there is pretty funny. That date, two years ago ...
Muckerman: That's their bi-annual meeting, it happens in November. That year, it was Nov. 24.
O'Reilly: So, right before Thanksgiving, they were like, "Yeah, we're not going to do anything," and oil plummets. And here we sit, two years later.
Muckerman: People were cooking their turkeys by the oil drum fires in 2014.
O'Reilly: Because it was so cheap. (laughs) But, correct me if I'm wrong, they're talking about, in a month, agreeing to actually setting firmly about a 750,000-per-day barrel decrease in supply.
Muckerman: That's what an Iranian representative suggested. But if you look across the board, there's a lot of people that aren't quite sure it'll even reach 500,000 barrels per day. But even if it was 700,000 barrels a day --
O'Reilly: Or 500,000.
Muckerman: Either way, that's only 0.7% of global oil production. It's not a huge, earth-shattering thing. What is the big deal is that OPEC countries have returned to the table and reached a conclusion, rather than just walking away with their hands up in the air.
O'Reilly: Right, Saudi Arabia and Iran are actually talking. One of them closed the other's embassy in their country a year ago. They were mean for a while.
Muckerman: These countries traditionally don't get along. This isn't totally resigned to just oil markets, when you look at how these countries are playing chess against each other.
O'Reilly: The Persian Empire invented chess.
Muckerman: Yeah. There's a little bit of historical nature to that suggestion, as well. When you look at what they've been doing, Saudi Arabia is much more reliant, for budgetary reasons, on high oil prices, high oil revenues. Iran is just having a field day because they had all these sanctions against them and now they've been lifted.
O'Reilly: This is all free money.
Muckerman: Essentially. It's money they didn't have. So, they became less reliant on oil revenues over that time period, and now they can sit on lower prices, higher production, for a little bit longer than Saudi Arabia can. You look at Saudi Arabia cutting ministers' salaries by up to 20%, cutting subsidies across the board to their civilians.
O'Reilly: They can no longer buy their solid gold Lamborghinis. I feel terrible for them.
Muckerman: I mean, you kind of have to at some point, because oil does represent a significant part of their overall budget.
O'Reilly: Their social programs, if you look at the oil ministers, it's everybody.
Muckerman: Yeah, everybody benefits when they sell oil at high prices. If you look at 0.7% of oil cutbacks, not a huge deal, especially when you look at the landscape in the United States with so many wells that have been drilled but not completed. You look at a research company like Rystad Energy, [which] suggests that 90% of wells that are drilled but not completed can be economically completed at $50 a barrel, which we're almost at. So, I think supply is going to be able to make up for lost ground, in terms of what OPEC is supposedly going to pull back on.
O'Reilly: On the other hand, it's minuscule compared to global daily production size.
Muckerman: Yeah. I think it's just the significance of them actually coming to an accord, rather than walking away from the table.
O'Reilly: In addition to that, just to play devil's advocate a little bit: When the fateful day occurred two years ago, OPEC said they weren't doing anything and they were going to go for market share, we not going to cut and just to guarantee a price, what was the global oversupply number per day?
Muckerman: More than it is today.
O'Reilly: That's my point. It was 1.5 million barrels a day oversupply? So, the 500,000 or 750,000 barrels per day that OPEC is talking about cutting -- granted, at this point -- in addition to the gargantuan capital budget cuts that have occurred in the industry, I'm like: is the oversupply done?
Muckerman: Long term, you could start to worry about that. But in the near term, like I said, you have almost 4,000, maybe over 4,000 wells in the United States that can be fracked at $50 a barrel. That could drive up U.S. production, which has been pulling back since November 2014, from record highs. So, you're seeing the ability of companies like EOG and Continental Resources, who have already started to complete some of these wells in the $40 range, and then a company like Whiting Petroleum that was shopping itself for what looked to be pretty cheap just several months ago.
O'Reilly: But there were no takers.
Muckerman: There were no takers. And here they are saying, "Once $50 a barrel comes around, we're going to start completing some these wells." By that, I mean that the wells have been drilled, but they haven't been cemented, encased, they haven't been fracked. So they're not producing. But that's traditionally the more expensive part of the whole process. So companies have been drilling these sites and letting them idle until they reach a certain dollar value per barrel. It seems to be $50 per barrel is that magic number for the broad majority of these wells. It's gotten to be such a big deal that the EIA has actually started to come out with a monthly report of how many wells are drilled but uncompleted. You have seen it come down a little bit since January because the price of oil has risen since January. If you look at January 2014, there were around 2,500 wells that were drilled but not completed. You're looking at a little over 4,000 right now.
Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. Taylor Muckerman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of EOG Resources. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.