Apr 22, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The uncertain global attempt to save oil

Illustration of a net trying to catch oil barrels

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Policymakers worldwide are eyeing new moves to shore up collapsing oil markets and, in the U.S., help distressed companies — but there is probably no safety net big enough.

Driving the news: President Trump yesterday said he told the Treasury and Energy Departments to come up with a financial aid plan for the oil sector.

  • Saudi Arabia said it's "prepared to take further measures jointly with OPEC+ and other producers," while some OPEC+ ministers held a videoconference yesterday but did not announce any new steps.
  • Australia today announced a US$60 million plan to take advantage of low prices to buy oil for strategic stockpiles, some of which will be held in the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol called for three steps, including faster and deeper cuts from countries that have committed to throttle back production.

But, but, but: The measures, most of them inchoate for now, are unlikely to be enough to substantially reverse the trajectory of oil markets responding to the collapse in demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The global benchmark Brent crude is still trading at around $20 per barrel this morning, up a little after tumbling to $16 earlier in the day.
  • But it's still down from nearly $70 in early January, a roughly 70% drop, and the collapse in U.S. prices has been even steeper (more on that below).
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big question: What precise form the Trump administration efforts will take, and whether there's a deal to be made with Democrats for potential steps that would require Capitol Hill action.

  • "We look forward to both looking at both existing capabilities we have, and that will be something we may need to go back to Congress and get additional funding for," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at a White House briefing last night.

Go deeper: A world locked down and drowning in oil

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