Saudis drop WTI oil contract

This comes via the FT:

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday decided to drop the widely used West Texas Intermediate oil contract as the benchmark for pricing its oil, dealing a serious blow to the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The decision by the world’s biggest oil exporter could encourage other producers to abandon the benchmark and threatens the dominance of the world’s most heavily traded oil futures contract. It is the main contract traded on Nymex.

Before anyone tries to spin this as an anti-dollar move, you should read what else the FT article says:

In January, WTI, which usually trades at a premium of $1-$2 a barrel to Brent, fell sharply, leaving it at a discount of almost $12 – a record gap. This dislocation in the market continued well into the summer. 

From January, Saudi Arabia will base the price of oil for its US customers on a new index developed by Argus, the London-based oil pricing company.

The Argus Sour Crude Index will track the price in the physical market of a basket of US Gulf Coast crudes, including Mars, Poseidon and Southern Green Canyon.

The point of this move is not to undermine the dollar but to get away from the WTI contract where prices have been artificially inflated due to storage shortages at Cushing.

A friend familiar with this market also indicated that big bank punters active in this market will like this move as well as it helps them evade the position limits and regulation of the CFTC. He says, “In fact, the lack of transparency and regulation on the Dubai Merc was one of the reasons why you had such successful speculation in the oil market during the spring of 2008.”

I see a spike in oil prices as a risk to any sustained recovery. Anyone with more insight into why the Saudis made this move, do comment.


Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.