Russia has just taken significant steps that will break the present Wall Street oil price monopoly, at least for a huge part of the world oil market. The move is part of a longer-term strategy of decoupling Russia’s economy and especially its very significant export of oil, from the US dollar, today the Achilles Heel of the Russian economy.
Later in November the Russian Energy Ministry has announced that it will begin test-trading of a new Russian oil benchmark. While this might sound like small beer to many, it’s huge. If successful, and there is no reason why it won’t be, the Russian crude oil benchmark futures contract traded on Russian exchanges, will price oil in rubles and no longer in US dollars. It is part of a de-dollarization move that Russia, China and a growing number of other countries have quietly begun.
The setting of an oil benchmark price is at the heart of the method used by major Wall Street banks to control world oil prices. Oil is the world’s largest commodity in dollar terms. Today, the price of Russian crude oil is referenced to what is called the Brent price. The problem is that the Brent field, along with other major North Sea oil fields is in major decline, meaning that Wall Street can use a vanishing benchmark to leverage control over vastly larger oil volumes. The other problem is that the Brent contract is controlled essentially by Wall Street and the derivatives manipulations of banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP MorganChase and Citibank.
The ‘Petrodollar’ demise
The sale of oil denominated in dollars is essential for the support of the US dollar. In turn, maintaining demand for dollars by world central banks for their currency reserves to back foreign trade of countries like China, Japan or Germany, is essential if the United States dollar is to remain the leading world reserve currency. That status as world’s leading reserve currency is one of two pillars of American hegemony since the end of World War II. The second pillar is world military supremacy.
US wars financed with others’ dollars
Because all other nations need to acquire dollars to buy imports of oil and most other commodities, a country such as Russia or China typically invests the trade surplus dollars its companies earn in the form of US government bonds or similar US government securities. The only other candidate large enough, the Euro, since the 2010 Greek crisis, is seen as more risky.
That leading reserve role of the US dollar, since August 1971 when the dollar broke from gold-backing, has essentially allowed the US Government to run seemingly endless budget deficits without having to worry about rising interest rates, like having a permanent overdraft credit at your bank.
That in effect has allowed Washington to create a record $18.6 trillion federal debt without major concern. Today the ratio of US government debt to GDP is 111%. In 2001 when George W. Bush took office and before trillions were spent on the Afghan and Iraq “War on Terror,” US debt to GDP was just half, or 55%. The glib expression in Washington is that “debt doesn’t matter,” as the assumption is that the world—Russia, China, Japan, India, Germany–will always buy US debt with their trade surplus dollars. The ability of Washington to hold the lead reserve currency role, a strategic priority for Washington and Wall Street, is vitally tied to how world oil prices are determined.
Russian benchmark importance
Today, prices for Russian oil exports are set according to the Brent price in as traded London and New York. With the launch of Russia’s benchmark trading, that is due to change, likely very dramatically. The new contract for Russian crude in rubles, not dollars, will trade on the St. Petersburg International Mercantile Exchange (SPIMEX).
The Brent benchmark contract are used presently to price not only Russian crude oil. It’s used to set the price for over two-thirds of all internationally traded oil. The problem is that the North Sea production of the Brent blend is declining to the point today only 1 million barrels Brent blend production sets the price for 67% of all international oil traded. The Russian ruble contract could make a major dent in the demand for oil dollars once it is accepted.
Russia is the world’s largest oil producer, so creation of a Russian oil benchmark independent from the dollar is significant, to put it mildly. In 2013 Russia produced 10.5 million barrels per day, slightly more than Saudi Arabia. Because natural gas is mainly used in Russia, fully 75% of their oil can be exported. Europe is by far Russia’s main oil customer, buying 3.5 million barrels a day or 80% of total Russian oil exports. The Urals Blend, a mixture of Russian oil varieties, is Russia’s main exported oil grade. The main European customers are Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. To put Russia’s benchmark move into perspective, the other large suppliers of crude oil to Europe – Saudi Arabia (890,000 bpd), Nigeria (810,000 bpd), Kazakhstan (580,000 bpd) and Libya (560,000 bpd) – lag far behind Russia. As well, domestic production of crude oil in Europe is declining quickly. Oil output from Europe fell just below 3 Mb/d in 2013, following steady declines in the North Sea which is the basis of the Brent benchmark.
Step-by-step, Russia, China and other emerging economies are taking measures to lessen their dependency on the US dollar, to “de-dollarize.” Oil is the world’s largest traded commodity and it is almost entirely priced in dollars. Were that to end, the ability of the US military industrial complex to wage wars without end would be in deep trouble.
Full article: Russia Breaking Wall St Oil Price Monopoly (NEO)