Will the latest Middle East crisis impact oil markets?

Last week’s airstrikes in Yemen by the US and UK are prompting concerns about potential impacts on oil prices. Despite media portrayal of unrest, it is prudent to exercise caution before prematurely asserting a significant spike in oil prices. The 4% surge in crude oil futures on Friday falls within the realm of typical market fluctuations. It is crucial to approach this situation pragmatically, recognizing that trading algorithms are recalibrating in response to unfolding events in the Red Sea, a region currently navigating uncharted waters.

Challenging prevailing market complacency is essential. Historical instances, such as the 2019 attack on Saudi oil infrastructure at Abqaiq, entailed a short-lived surge in crude prices. The market now expects tangible, physical supply interruptions, distinct from incidents in the Red Sea. The ongoing loss of supply in the Red Sea is perceived differently by the market. Despite the latest escalation with the US and the UK responding to events, we observed only a modest uptick, as the market does not yet perceive a significant supply loss. Until tangible disruptions are evident, a sustained, meaningful premium in crude geopolitical risk remains unlikely.

Turning to the present, the oil market appears to downplay, perhaps understandably but erroneously, the risk of the Hamas-Israel conflict disrupting oil supply. This is particularly relevant given potential implications for Iran. Another closely monitored factor is Lebanon, where the possibility of an Israeli-Lebanese war looms, presenting a potential shake-up in the oil landscape.

Drawing parallels to the early 1980s, the current oil market situation carries macroeconomic inflationary undertones. While considering the desirability of expensive oil for Western economies, the current expectation of a surge in Brent crude, to between $82 and $83 per barrel in the coming weeks, may be a tad premature.

The early 1980s marked a pivotal era for the global oil market as it shifted from the disruptions of the 1970s energy crisis to a period of stabilization and declining prices. Strategic petroleum reserves emerged as crucial safeguards during supply uncertainties. Drawing parallels to today’s landscape, with military strikes and geopolitical tensions escalating, the lessons from the early 1980s underscore the enduring importance of strategic reserves and the necessity for adaptive global energy strategies to navigate contemporary uncertainties and maintain a secure oil supply.

In the aftermath of the 1970s shocks, the oil market experienced a dramatic surge in prices during 1979-1980. However, the early 1980s saw a notable reversal in this trend, characterized by a substantial downturn that reached its pinnacle in the infamous oil price collapse of 1986. This shift in trajectory underscores the intricate dynamics of the oil market during that period, navigating through volatility and eventual decline.

The peak prompted a shift as consumers embraced alternatives, leading to a substantial decline in overall oil consumption. Simultaneously, an oversupply emerged, driven by heightened production from non-OPEC nations, particularly the US. In response, OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, prioritized market share over price support, precipitating a swift collapse in oil prices. The ensuing economic turbulence impacted oil-dependent economies while fostering growth in oil-importing nations. Despite OPEC’s attempts to stabilize prices through production quotas, internal dynamics became intricate as member countries pursued disparate strategies. The enduring lessons from the 1980s continue to influence global energy policies, emphasizing adaptability and diversification in the ever-evolving oil industry.

The situation in the Red Sea demands careful consideration; disruptions are already reverberating in the core of the EU. Reports from Reuters, such as Tesla halting work on the Model Y plant near Berlin due to supply chain adjustments driven by Red Sea tensions, underscore the tangible impact of geopolitical events on industries.

With roughly 30% of global trade traversing the Red Sea corridor, any disturbance in this vital route signifies trouble. Recent data indicates a near halving of trade volume, compelling ships into longer journeys. This isn’t just a maritime inconvenience; it’s a potential precursor to inflationary pressures. Longer sea routes diminish the fleet’s ability to deliver goods promptly, a concerning scenario for countries heavily reliant on imported goods, such as the EU or the UK.

Despite these challenges, the impact on oil prices, for now, appears contained. They remain steady, even lower than a couple of months ago, a contrast to the chaos caused when the container ship ‘Ever Given’ blocked the Suez Canal for six days in March 2021. That incident left hundreds of ships stuck in mooring and reportedly held up $9 billion of global trade for each day of stoppage. The difference lies in the current resilience of supply chains, in contrast to the struggling networks of the past.

The EU is rightfully concerned about the potential implications of disrupted trade routes, supply chain adjustments, and the geopolitical risks in the Red Sea. Investors, businesses, and governments are vigilantly monitoring the situation, recognizing its far-reaching consequences on global trade dynamics.

Market responses have been swift, with increased volatility in oil prices, prompting speculative behavior. Traders are strategically positioning themselves, evident in the purchase of call option spreads on Brent crude. This introduces an additional layer of unpredictability to an already dynamic oil market, influencing both investors and consumers.

The economic implications extend beyond oil, considering the Red Sea’s role as a vital conduit for global trade responsible for 15% of the world’s shipping traffic. Escalating instability may disrupt the flow of goods between Europe and Asia, potentially causing supply chain disruptions with ripple effects on various industries and economies.

The Red Sea tensions present a multifaceted challenge, demanding almost hourly monitoring from oil traders. As they await further developments, their outlook remains on high alert, poised to adapt to new geopolitical risks.

(Source: RT)