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Crude Oil is one of the world’s most demanded commodity because of its versatility in terms of products. The six most influential countries of the said commodity include the U., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, China and Venezuela.
The US carries the most weight when it comes to affecting the price of crude oil by quite a margin. The US is not only the largest consumer of crude oil products but it has also surpassed both Saudi Arabia and Russia for the top spot in terms of production in 2019.
The US has some of the largest refinery capacity in the world and therefore holds a certain global economic power that could impose sanctions on another country and actually change the balance of supply and demand as they did recently with Venezuela. In late 2018, the United States exported more oil than it imported – the first time that has happened in 75 years.
The utter size of Russian production along with its independence from any formal production cartels gives Russia even more power. Russia is the second contender and places before Saudi Arabia since it has more refining capacity and is a slightly larger consumer of crude oil.
However, it is its independence that gives it the power it has over prices. When an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production cut is announced, prices barely move until it is known that the Minister of Energy, Novak, has agreed to cut Russian production in line with OPEC. Due to their independence, they could drop out of any production deal with no direct consequences.
As a founding member as well as the most influential member of the OPEC, Saudi Arabia has the most experience influencing global crude oil prices. They have been in the top three of oil-producing nations for decades and are currently the sixth-largest consumer of crude in the world.
They have vast resources in crude research and data. Saudi Arabia influences oil prices more frequently than any other country by dictating production increases and production cuts for OPEC, bringing Russia along any time it can. Their cheap production costs and spare capacity mean they can achieve the status of being the most influential in the oil market.
China is the second-largest consumer of crude in the world and is expected to overtake the U.S. in the next 10 years. Their economic swings can move crude oil prices without having a supply impact to offset it. China is the fifth-largest producer in the world, but they only pump 4.78 million bpd, 1/3 of U.S. production, and less than half of Saudi Arabia or Russia.
Their buying power is how they affect prices and they will only get stronger in this aspect. They also lead the world in capital spending to increase refining capacity and storage, so they have the potential to go on a buying binge in the coming decade.
Iran and Iraq
While not allies, the two countries are similar in oil production levels, dependence on crude for economic rebuilding and are both OPEC members. Currently, Iran is operating under sanctions placed upon them by the United States, and Iraq is still trying to finance a rebuild from decades of war. This means any promised production levels from these two countries are unreliable, yet could move prices.
Venezuela's effect on crude prices has been steadily declining as their production declines – they have now fallen to the lowest levels since 2003 at 1.4 million bpd. Yet the newly imposed US sanctions have caused a price spike based on the remaining production potentially leaving the broader market. Sanctions were imposed on Venezuelan military officials and the president of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. According to reports, this is accelerating the already rapid collapse of its oil output.
There are other countries that could affect crude prices with one-off events such as military battles and production outages, such as Libya and Nigeria. For now, these six will control the headlines and the equilibrium between demand and supply.
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