Today commodities traders are trying to determine whether recent talk of a new OPEC-style cartel for natural gas is serious or not. The proposed alliance would primarily be between Russia and Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the idea was "interesting." Could a natural gas cartel be in Wall Street's future, or is Russia after something else?
This is not the first time that Vladimir Putin has talked about forming such an alliance, but this time the markets seem to be taking it more seriously. “We have now Iran bringing it up as well as Putin,” said Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal. “So I think everyone now is taking it a little more seriously, than when it came up a couple years ago.”
Most analysts believe the fragmented nature of the gas market makes it unlikely exporters could find enough common ground to work together, at least in the near term. "Basically the gas exporting countries are too different,with competing not complementary interests (to form a gas OPEC)," Jonathan Stern of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies said.
They see recent statements as something else, entirely. “This is a lot more about geo-politics than it is about natural gas,” explained Alex Turkeltaub, Managing Director at Frontier Strategy Group, a consulting group based in Los Angeles.
“The Russians want to increase their influence in the Middle East,” he said. “They want to be seen as a power broker... In respect to that, this move makes sense for strengthening Russian influence in foreign policy.”
In other words, Putin is trying to put himself center stage in the nukes dispute between Iran and the White House. “He has carrots to give the Iranian regime,” continued Turtletaub. “If (Iran) sticks it out and continues to improve relations with Russia – "Russia has things to offer that will be valuable to Iran as a dependable ally."
That doesn’t mean a nat-gas alliance is out of the question. In the long term, a cartel could materialize, and if so, what would US reaction would be?
“US reaction would not be strong,” said Russell Gold. “The US gets most of its natural gas either domestically or from Canada. But those supplies have been strained over the last few years.. that’s not going to last.”
Iran, Russia and Qatar control more than 50% of the world’s natural gas reserves.