Russia could cause a slump in oil prices if Moscow vetoes extension
Meeting between OPEC members including Russia
Russian energy minister (second from right) has hinted that Russia could block an extension to the production cut (Source: Getty)

As the November 30 meeting in Vienna of OPEC and its partners in the deal to oil production cut nears, worry has returned among traders: one of the brokers of the deal might decide to walk out instead of participating in another extension.

Reports emerged last week that Russia is considering a delay on the decision to extend the cut, after Energy Minister Alexander Novak hinted more than once that from Moscow’s perspective, this decision is far from urgent.

With a budget based on Brent at $40, Russia is indeed in a sweet spot compared with its partners in the deal: it can remain in the black at any price above $40.

But there may be another reason for Moscow deciding to opt out of the extension: lower oil prices could actually be more beneficial for the Russian economy. Macro-Advisory analyst Chris Weafer lists six ways in which lower oil prices would be better for Russia, and all of these make sense, counterintuitive as this line of argument might seem at first glance.

For starters, the higher the price of oil, the greater the risk of another collapse down the road. The more oil costs, the more producers will invest in new production, possibly leading to a repeat of the 2014 collapse. An additional risk is that prices could simply take a dive once the OPEC deal ends, which it will have to, at some point.

A higher oil price would also likely compromise a Russian budget reform currently in the works, which aims to rein in spending. The country's economic diversification efforts may well be compromised if oil prices remain higher - a point we’ve made repeatedly on Oilprice, not just with respect to Russia but to all oil-dependent economies.

According to Weafer, however, renewable energy does not play a large part in this diversification. He says that stifling investments in renewable energy is one more reason for Moscow to want oil prices to fall: the higher oil prices are, the more attractive renewable energy becomes.

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A further reason is that Moscow prefers to keep the ruble cheaper as this stimulates exports, curbs imports, and boosts competitiveness. Traditionally, the Russian currency has followed Brent’s moves closely, but this link has now been severed thanks to a fiscal rule mechanism employed by the Russian Finance Ministry that involves converting more rubles into forex as tax on the oil industry rises, pressuring the local currency.

If, however, Brent goes high enough, there may be a spike in speculative interest in rubles, which will cause the currency to rise, too.

All of these reasons make perfect sense for Russia. They are unlikely to be praised by its partners in the deal, however.

Right now, according to analysts, OPEC’s meeting on November 30 and the deal extension expected from it is the single most important tailwind for oil prices, as the effect of tensions in the Middle East begins to subside in the absence of any escalation.

In this context, the consequences of Russia pulling out of an extension beyond March 2018 are all too easy to guess.

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