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Saudi Arabia Uprising Could Mean $140-Plus Oil

The events unfolding in Libya mark the first uprising in a major oil producing country this year, giving energy traders their first indication of where crude could climb if Mideast turmoil were to spread to Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Protests in Libya
CNBC
Protests in Libya

“Pricing in Libya supply disruptions is one thing, but what if this social unrest spreads to Saudi Arabia, which holds 20 percent of the world’s oil?” said David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for Gluskin Sheff. “Do the math: we’d be talking about $200 oil.”

Without taking into account the collateral effects of such a strategic part of the Middle East falling under siege by its own people, a simple production comparison gets the price to at least $140 a barrel.

West Texas crude oil for April delivery, the benchmark for the U.S., rose as much as $8.44 a barrel in trading today to $98.48 on Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi’s defiance in the face of the uprising.

Saudi Arabia produced 9.8 million barrels a day of crude oil in 2009, 5.4 times more than Libya, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Multiplying $8.44 by 5.4 equals a $45.95 jump in the price of crude.

“Oil would go parabolic,” said Joe Terranova, chief market strategist for Virtus Investment Partners and former energy trader. “The Shiite population (compared to the Sunni ruling family) is more concentrated in the oil producing region. The workers could strike.”

Technical analysts studying the charts see a steady trend upward right now, potentially to the 2008 high above $140. A successful breakout at about $140 gets you to Rosenberg’s $200 next, they said.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Oil Minister, said that the country could unleash a large amount of supply to relieve any spike in price. His comments Tuesday sent oil off its high for the day. Still, the seeds of the current Middle East revolution remain present in his country: unemployment and a youthful population.

“With 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saudi Arabia would clearly have a much greater affect on oil prices,” said Jim Iuorio, managing director for TJM Institutional Services. “However, I have a difficult time believing that the U.S. government would let the country fall into the hands of a different government. Make no mistake, Saudi Arabia is not Egypt or Libya and the U.S. would be quick to aid.”

One matter that could keep oil in check even if Saudi Arabia’s current ruling party fell is the demand side of the equation. When oil hit $147 a barrel in 2008, total petroleum consumption in the United States fell below 20 million barrels a day for the first time in six years, according to EIA data.

“If Saudi Arabia goes and oil is disrupted, we would have a strong run-up in price with an extreme above $150, but that would also crush demand,” said Andrew Busch of BMO Capital Markets. “Remember when oil was last at $140 (a barrel), Americans reacted and cut the amount of miles they drove.”

Still, oil was rising for different reasons back then as producing countries still had a solid hold on their supplies. A spreading revolution in the Middle East is a much more permanent change in the global energy markets than the crowded hedge fund trade it became back then.

For the best market insight, catch 'Fast Money' each night at 5pm ET, and the ‘Halftime Report’ each afternoon at 12:30 ET on CNBC.


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Trader disclosure: On Feb 22, 2011, the following stocks and commodities mentioned or intended to be mentioned on CNBC’s "Fast Money" were owned by the "Fast Money" traders; Seymour owns (AAPL); Semour owns (BAC); Seymour owns (F); Seymour's firm is short (FXI); Seymour owns (GM); Seymour owns (INTC); Seymour's firm is short (POT); Seymour owns (TTM); Adami Owns (AGU); Adami Owns (C); Adami Owns (GS); Adami Owns (INTC); Adami Owns (MSFT); Adami Owns (NUE); Adami Owns (BTU); Adami's wife works for (MRK); Weiss owns (AAPL); Weiss owns (AGU); Weiss owns (CSCO); Weiss owns (IPI); Weiss owns (JPM); Weiss owns (MSFT); Weiss owns (QCOM); Weiss owns (VZ); Weiss owns (COP); Weiss owns (DVN); Weiss owns (MEE); Weiss owns (BTU); Weiss owns (CNX); Weiss owns (HK); Terranova Owns (VRTS); Terranova Owns (C); Terranova Owns (UPL); Terranova Owns (GM); Terranova Owns (MS); Terranova Owns (SLXP); Terranova owns (TEVA); Terranova Owns (BAX); Terranova Owns (CVI); Terranova Owns (RSX); Terranova Owns (SU); Terranova Owns (CNQ)

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