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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Saudi Press Agency via AP

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's decision to shake up Saudi Arabia's longstanding patronage system and root out "corruption" introduces further uncertainties after a decade of black swan events in global oil. Just when companies were adjusting to the idea that oil prices might be lower for longer, the prospect of Saudi Arabia behaving in less than predictable ways is unnerving pundits and oil market participants alike.

Saudi Arabia has generally played the role of conservative power across the Middle East, with longstanding alliances and consistent geopolitical responses. When the kingdom declared — in the midst of U.S. efforts to negotiate a deal on nuclear weapons with Iran — that it would now pursue its own interests more vigorously, few would have foreseen the kingdom taking on a two-front war and replenishing its treasury with the restitution to the state of billions of dollars in assets amassed by Saudi princes and executives whose business-as-usual practices were highly unpopular with average Saudis.

What's next: Odds are that oil prices will now wind up higher than otherwise expected. Riyadh can ill afford an oil price collapse, forcing it to endorse policies inside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and beyond that keep the price of oil lofty. Another contingency is the prospect of expanded conflict in the Mideast from a more muscular Saudi stance, which could move oil markets back onto a pins-and-needles footing.

Go deeper

18 mins ago - Health

First cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in United Kingdom

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Two cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in the United Kingdom over night, the U.K. Health Security Agency announced Saturday.

Why it matters: The discovery comes as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Americans are super-sizing their holiday travel

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are rushing back into holiday travel, and many are taking even longer trips now than they did before the pandemic began.

The big picture: After skipping Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings last year, many people are eager to maximize this year's celebrations with friends and family. And flexible remote working arrangements make that easier than ever.

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Pity the "green" car buyer

Expand chart
Data: IHS Markit Data; Note: Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Americans are more open than ever to trading in their gas cars for electrified vehicles — but they're flummoxed by the confusing array of green options arriving in showrooms.

Why it matters: Getting up to speed on the differences among hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles will be a challenge for car buyers — and salespeople, too — as we transition away from gas-powered vehicles over the next decade.