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Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (on left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk. Photo: Pool/Getty Images

The outcome of this week's OPEC meeting in Vienna is "pivotal" for the future of the Saudi-Russian alliance — and by extension the broader OPEC/non-OPEC group — says smart cartel-watcher Ellen Wald, the president of Transversal Consulting.

Crystal ball: Wald predicts the meeting will yield plans for a production boost in the 300,000 to 600,000 barrel per day range. But it's not clear whether that will come from a firm agreement or relaxed compliance among producers — notably the Saudis, Russia, UAE and some others — with spare capacity.

  • Recent discussions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a long-term relationship will look less important if the meeting breaks down, she says.
  • Of note: Russia and the Saudis are reportedly in agreement on an output increase but facing pushback from some members.
  • “It doesn’t mean nearly as much if they can’t get a deal done this week. Otherwise it’s just talk between two authoritarian rulers,” Wald tells Axios.
  • It's a top priority heading for Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih. “If he can get the group to agree to an increase, however small, that will strengthen this alliance between Russia and Saudi Arabia,” she says.

On Aramco: Wald does not believe the meeting will offer much insight into Saudi Arabia's hazy plans for the IPO of state oil giant Aramco.

  • That's despite frequent speculation that the kingdom is looking to achieve a certain oil price to support the listing.
  • “His (al-Falih’s) real concern right now is maintaining this alliance. He sees the IPO as separate from oil policy,” according to Wald, author of the recent book "Saudi, Inc."

On U.S. influence: Wald says an agreement to boost output will not reflect the influence of the White House, despite President Trump's public pressure on the cartel to boost production, but rather calculations about the market for additional barrels.

  • “Saudi Arabia is not going to do it for the U.S.,” she says.

Behind the scenes in Vienna, part 1: The Wall Street Journal cautions that despite outward signs of discord, the meeting will yield a successful Saudi-Russian push to boost output despite dissent from Iran and some others.

  • "OPEC is back to its squabbling ways after an unusual period of near harmony. But investors who are bidding up oil prices in the expectation of a split are misunderstanding both the history of the cartel and the current state of the oil market," the paper reports.

Behind the scenes in Vienna, part 2: Per Reuters, Harold Hamm, CEO of U.S. shale powerhouse Continental Resources, has scuttled his planned appearance at an OPEC event.

  • The intrigue: "Hamm is the third of five U.S. shale executives to withdraw from a scheduled speaking slot at the OPEC meeting in Vienna," they report.

Go deeper

Updated 46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump sues National Archives, Jan. 6 committee to block records request

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the National Archives from releasing White House records to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, citing executive privilege.

Why it matters: It's the latest escalation in Trump's campaign to disrupt the committee's sweeping probe into the circumstances surrounding Jan. 6, including his actions and communications leading up to the Capitol attack.

UNC race conscious admissions process upheld by judge

Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Aug. 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can continue its race conscious admissions process, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Why it matters: The case could end up in the Supreme Court after the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) vowed to appeal the judge's ruling that UNC didn't discriminate against against white and Asian American applicants in its policy that it said was designed to increase diversity.

SEC debunks conspiracy theories about meme stock mania

Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The SEC issued its long-awaited report on the meme stock mania, which downplayed the narrative that a "short squeeze" was the primary driver behind GameStop's historic stock moves — and shot down conspiracy theories about the event.

Why it matters: The postmortem was highly anticipated, largely because of what it could hint about what the regulator thinks should be done in wake of the saga. But the report stopped short of specific policy recommendations.