Obama Pressuring OPEC Dissenters, Crude Oil Prices Could Lower

Includes: APA, SU
by: Sara Nunnally

For the past two days, I've been driving ... I recently won an auction for a mustang -- a gorgeous strawberry roan we're calling Aesop Rye. I spent all of Wednesday towing all 1,000 pounds of him, plus the 3,500-pound trailer. The trip was grueling and we made plenty of pit stops along the way. But surprisingly, one of the things that didn't bother us as much was the price of gas. In Milwaukee, Wis., gas prices are running between $3.60 and $4. The farther south we went, the cheaper gas prices got. In Oklahoma City, just north of where we picked up Aesop, gas was going for $3.23 -- more than 10% cheaper! And gas prices could be falling even more in the next few days.

It's all because of the big news in the crude oil sector this week. President Obama said he would release crude oil from emergency reserves. Obama, with the International Energy Agency, will put 60 million barrels of crude oil on the market. This should send crude oil prices lower. And gas prices will tick down right along with oil. But talk about awkward timing ... Crude oil was down to $92 a barrel earlier this week. Why didn't the president do this last month when crude oil prices were above $113? The question is, "Why now?" One reason could be to pressure OPEC.

The disastrous OPEC meeting last week ended in a huge split between its members over whether or not they should raise crude oil production. Saudi Arabia normally holds sway over the group, but this time, it ran up against stiff opposition.

No surprise... The reason Saudi Arabia wanted to boost production was because of demand... in six months. This has nothing to do with any supply issues right now. In fact, we're still oversupplied with oil. Crude oil prices are still above $90 a barrel, though and it's campaign season. Time to turn on the taps. But here's the thing. OPEC countries willing to boost their quotas are mostly friends with the West. Saudi Arabia is an example. But those against the bump up in production are not. Like Iran and Venezuela.

That Obama chose now to release crude oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserves is like giving the finger to the OPEC members who voted against increasing oil production. How this move will affect those OPEC "mavericks" who voted against the increase in production? From The Daily Ticker:

For true conspiracy theorists, the thinking goes like this: When the Fed downgraded its estimate of the U.S. economy and 2012 employment Wednesday, the White House went into panic mode. In order to get Bernanke's dour outlook off the front page, Obama announced the Afghan troop withdrawal followed by this morning's release of strategic petroleum reserves, which, of course, was reportedly done after close consultation with the Saudis and has the added goal of putting pressure on Iran.

Lower crude oil prices mean fewer social programs in these oil-producing countries. Fewer social programs mean social unrest. It means uprisings and revolution. You've heard the term: Arab Spring. The young activists in places like Egypt would be more like the rebels in Libya if governments crack down hard on uprisings and don't have the money to buy their way out of revolution.

Oil prices are a double-edged sword, especially for those economies that need crude profits to keep the peace. High oil prices face pressure from the rest of the world. Low oil prices mean pressure from unhappy citizens. More oil headed to the market lowers prices and this news is already doing some damage to the price of oil ... By 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time, crude oil prices had fallen 3.78%, down to $91.80 a barrel.

That's also rotten luck for Apache Corp. (NYSE:APA) and Suncor Energy (NYSE:SU) that I talked to you about on Monday last week. Both were down significantly yesterday, but made up some of those losses at the end of the day. This makes sense for oil companies, just like it does for crude oil-producing countries. Of the full 60 million barrels from the emergency plan, the U.S. will release 30 million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This will happen over the span of a month. But that might not have any effect on the demand six months, when Saudi Arabia suggests expects a rebound.

No ... This short-lived symbolic finger won't do much more than irritate a number of oil producers in the middle of a blossoming Arab Spring. As for APA and SU, let's set some tight exit points just in case this emergency plan weighs down crude oil companies. Keep your exit point right around $114 for APA for now. Shares ended at $117.41 on Thursday. A drop to $114 would test a key support level. A breakdown below that means even more pain. A further drop to $110 could be in the mix if support at $114 breaks.

For SU, the situation is a bit tighter. Share prices closed at $38.11 yesterday, down 1.12%. Prices have been rounding over for the past four months. If SU doesn't find support at current prices, a drop to $35 could be in the stock's future. That's an 8% loss. Not huge, but not insignificant, either.

I'll talk more about these two companies on Monday, but for now, I'm going to catch up on some well-earned sleep.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.