The vanishing petrodollar and its implications on financial markets
- Published on Thursday, 16 April 2015 08:08
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Here is a recent story from Bloomberg:
In the heady days of the commodity boom, oil-rich nations accumulated billions of dollars in reserves they invested in U.S. debt and other securities. They also occasionally bought trophy assets, such as Manhattan skyscrapers, luxury homes in London or Paris Saint-Germain Football Club.
Now that oil prices have dropped by half to $50 a barrel, Saudi Arabia and other commodity-rich nations are fast drawing down those “petrodollar” reserves. Some nations, such as Angola, are burning through their savings at a record pace, removing a source of liquidity from global markets.
If oil and other commodity prices remain depressed, the trend will cut demand for everything from European government debt to U.S. real estate as producing nations seek to fill holes in their domestic budgets.
“This is the first time in 20 years that OPEC nations will be sucking liquidity out of the market rather than adding to it through investments,” said David Spegel, head of emerging markets sovereign credit research at BNP Paribas SA in London.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, is the prime example of the swiftness and magnitude of the selloff: its foreign exchange reserves fell by $20.2 billion in February, the biggest monthly drop in at least 15 years, according to data from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency. That’s almost double the drop after the financial crisis in early 2009, when oil prices plunged and Riyadh consumed $11.6 billion of its reserves in a single month.
“The shock for oil-rich countries is enormous,” Rabah Arezki, head of the commodities research team at the IMF in Washington, said in an interview.
Oil-rich countries will sell more than $200 billion of assets this year to bridge the gap left between high fiscal spending and low revenues, Spegel said.
The drawdown reverses a decade-long inflow into the coffers of commodity-rich nations which helped to increase funds available for investment and boost asset prices. Bond purchases have helped to keep interest rates low.
Oil producers recycled a large portion of their petrodollars — a term coined for the dollar-denominated oil trade — by buying sovereign debt of the U.S. and other countries. As they draw down reserves, Middle East countries are likely to sell “low-yielding European assets,” George Saravelos, strategist at Deutsche Bank AG, said in a note to clients.
Read the full story from Bloomberg.
Oil producers, especially GCC producers, are not willing to give up on any of their generous social welfare programs, nor are they willing to stop their massive infrastructure programs. Low oil prices mean that they have to draw down on their foreign reserves, which they have already started doing. The longer oil prices stay low, the more reserves will be brought home and spent. We don’t expect to see oil prices rise high enough for this trend to stop in the next couple of years. In fact, we expect oil prices to resume their decline as we posted here.
The bottom line is that less petrodollars in the market means less liquidity in the market. And, as stated above, it also means that oil producers will be selling their lowest-yielding and most-liquid assets first (treasuries and government bonds). Liquidity in global stock markets is already drying up as the IMF warns. If liquidity were to dry up in the bond market, a crisis could easily be sparked as investors rush to the exits.