Saudi Arabia doesn't care about volatile oil

Gartman: Oil to $40

The oil price hit a 5-½-year low on Tuesday, in a move likely to wreak yet more economic havoc on countries like Russia and Venezuelabut major oil producer Saudi Arabia looked to be relatively unscathed.

Prices extending losses into a fourth session. One analyst told CNBC that Saudi Arabia—the largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC)—was enjoying a "perfect storm", enabling it to take on its rivals.

Brent oil for February delivery fell to under $57 per barrel at one point on Tuesday, despite ongoing output disruptions in Libya that had briefly appeared to support prices on Monday. And there is no sign of production being cut any time soon, with Saudi Arabia standing by OPEC's November decision not to reduce output.

The sun sets over an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia.
Pete Turner | Riser | Getty Images

"By dint almost of an accident Saudi Arabia is seeing Russia and Iran face some financial pain, and (falling prices) are causing trouble in Canada and some parts of the U.S. as well," Malcom Graham-Wood, independent oil and gas analysts, told CNBC Tuesday.

"Having this perfect storm of events unwind gave them the chance to play the market share card at the OPEC meeting (in November)," he said.

Venezuela's pain

Saudi Arabia is in a stronger position than a number of its fellow oil producers because it is a low-cost producer and can withstand lower prices as it has stockpiled revenues from previous peaks in the oil price in the last five years.

But other major oil producers—both inside and outside OPEC—have been hard hit by lower oil revenues. Investment in U.S. shale oil is starting to look threatened, and economic growth forecasts in countries like Russia have been hastily revised lower.

Venezuela's President, Nicolas Maduro, said on Monday that the country's petroleum export price had halved during the second half of 2014 to $48, Reuters reported. But rather than blame its fellow OPEC member Saudi for failing to back a producing cut, Maduro blamed the oil price decline on the U.S., saying the country was trying to hurt Russia and Venezuela.

Read MoreSaudis hit 'panicbutton' at $40 oil: Energy CEO

For many OPEC members, oil prices have now fallen through the floor at which production costs make economic sense, Graham-Wood stressed.

"Whilst it is true that Venezuela 'needs' $160 (to break-even) or Iran 'needs' $120 oil, and many other countries much higher than the current levels, there is nothing that they can do as long as the Saudis stand firm," he said.

"The best that all the other world producers from Russia through Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Latin America, Africa and the rest of OPEC can hope for is that by mid-2015, enough oil has come off the market. And combined with a pick-up in demand, that the equation looks a bit better."

Conspiracy theory?

A number of analysts believe that Saudi's move not to cut production was part of an effort to challenge its non-OPEC competitors, such as Russia and shale oil producers in the U.S., in a bid to maintain its long-standing market share.

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There is, however, another theory: that it is no coincidence that a lower oil price would be beneficial to Saudi Arabia by destabilizing rival political regimes closer to home.

"Saudi Arabia is a very low-cost producer and it is now claiming, from recent speeches from the oil ministry, that it's driving out higher-cost producers, but the fallout of that is not just Russia," Tom Elliott, international investment strategist at DeVere Group, told CNBC.

"Russia has keenly felt the drop in prices but (so too have) the high-cost regimes, many of which are Shia—and it is not a coincidence that, perhaps, Saudi is driving down the cost of oil in order to disrupt Shia regimes in Syria, Iraq and Iran."