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Trumping OPEC: President-elect Stares Down Saudis

Oh to be a fly on the wall in the halls of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

In that moment, the oil ministers from 14 nations all but knew their stranglehold over the world’s petroleum industry was slipping through their fingers. A tough talking, no nonsense president-elect was a 180-degree change from the current U.S. administration. And they knew it.

To understand the impact of Trump’s victory on the energy patch,and that is exactly what happened in Vienna today, we need to go back to 2013.

The revolution of the fracking and shale oil industry fueled an energy renaissance in America, the likes of which has never been seen.  Tens of thousands of jobs were created, oil was pumping at record rates, and prices were at $100 a barrel. Life was good in the oil patch.

But, supply and demand metrics began to come into play, and with OPEC refusing to give any market share to the “new kid on the block,” the cartel kept increasing production. The supply drowned the market, barrel prices fell to $26, and U.S. shale activity stalled as prices dropped below cost for producers.

READ MORE: From American Jobs to the Banking Industry: Who Will Unusually Low Oil Prices Hurt Most?

The strategy worked. Or so they thought.

OPEC was drowning by their own short sighted policies and Trump knew it.

As OPEC’s market share increased, it appeared the United States’ energy policy was not only intent on harming its own renaissance, but severely damaging it due to President Obama and his out of control EPA regulations. Add to the mix a deal to lift sanctions with Iran, which added more supply to an already saturated market, and U.S. opportunities appeared lost.

November 8, 2016.

Donald Trump wanted a fight. He knew OPEC and its host nations were hurting. With prices hovering around $35 a barrel due to market oversupply, the damage being done to the economies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Qatar and Venezuela, among others, was substantial and unsustainable.

OPEC was drowning by their own short sighted policies and Trump knew it.

During his campaign Trump targeted OPEC frequently, accusing it of holding the U.S. hostage and threatening to block all imports from OPEC members. Trump claimed he’d make the U.S. energy self-sufficient by backing fossil fuel production, opening up more federal land for oil and gas exploration, and cutting regulation and red tape. Indeed Trump stated, “for every single regulation added, two will be removed.”

With his rhetoric and power of the presidency, Trump wedged OPEC into a corner. The only way to protect their economies was to curb production. The cartel knew it and acted, trimming at least 1.2 million barrels a day from the world surplus — the first such action in 8 years. The move will bring the supply/demand back into a sustainable ratio by mid-2017. In an interview with Bloomberg, Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd said, “This should be a wake-up call for skeptics who have argued the death of OPEC, the group wants to push inventories down.”

If Trump follows through on his promise to limit Middle East oil imports into the U.S., further actions might need to be taken by OPEC. In an article with CNN, Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at PRICE Futures Group in Chicago said, “This is really OPEC’s last hurrah to have a real impact on the global market. When Trump comes in, it will be tougher to control prices.”

There will be no 1973 oil embargo again. OPEC blinked today and American energy is in a much healthier position because of it.

It’s clear president-elect Trump wants an energy revolution for the United States and the tens of thousands of jobs that go with it. Today’s action by OPEC ensured the first step on that path.

Photo Credit: Anton Watman / shutterstock.com