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More countries are expected to join oil-rich but cash-poor Azerbaijan and Nigeria in asking for international financial help if the price per barrel continues to show no sign of recovering, commodity experts have warned.
After Azerbaijan and Nigeria requested international financial aid in January as oil prices wallowed around, and even dipped below, the $30 a barrel mark, all eyes are on other struggling oil-producing nations to see who might be next to go cap in hand to such organizations as The World Bank or International Monetary Fund.
Amrita Sen, co-founder and chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, spoke to CNBC on Monday about the countries the energy analysis firm believed could be close to needing international aid.
"Venezuela and Angola would be the two countries that we would highlight. Venezuela is definitely tottering on the edge of financial collapse and Angola perhaps less so but there are others after that including Algeria and Iraq," she said.
The steep drop in oil prices to around $35 a barrel on Monday for benchmark Brent crude has hit all oil producers, but some harder than others.
OPEC member Nigeria has asked the World Bank and African Development Bank for $3.5 billion in emergency loans, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, to fill a growing gap in its budget. It's not alone in needing helping with its request for aid coming hot on the heels of oil producer Azerbaijan's request to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for financial support.
The slump has been caused by global demand failing to keep amid a glut in oil supply and has been exacerbated by the 12-member oil producing group OPEC's decision not to cut production as it tries to drive out rivals such as the shale oil industry in the U.S.
As such, oil producing nations both in the oil-rich Middle East and beyond are struggling with rising budget deficits, debts and dwindling cash reserves, which were largely amassed from oil exports.
Venezuela, itself an OPEC member, has repeatedly called for a cut to the cartel's production levels in a bid to support prices. However, de facto leader of the group Saudi Arabia has so far refused to countenance such a move, asking why it should be the so-called "swing producer" responsible for supporting prices.
Venezuela, whose Socialist-run economy is largely dependent on oil exports, has good reason to break rank and call for a cut. The economy is expected to contract by 18 percent in 2016, according to the IMF, which has also forecast that inflation, already officially around 141 percent, will in reality be close to 720 percent in 2016, piling more misery on Venezuelans already struggling to buy basic goods.
Carsten Fritsch, commodity analyst at Commerzbank, told CNBC on Monday that, in his view, Venezuela "would be the first country" he would think of as needing help.
"The fact that it has not already asked for help is quite surprising considering that it's the country as perceived as being in the most dire straits," he said. Fritsch felt uncomfortable speculating over which country might be next to seek help, however.
"A lot of countries are in trouble, even Saudi Arabia, but it's just speculation guessing who might be next," he said.
Last year, RBC Capital Markets' global head of commodity strategy, Helima Croft, issued a note warning of the "Fragile Five" oil-producing nations that could be vulnerable: Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela.
The fact that four out of five of these countries were fighting extremist Islamist ideologies as well as economic pain due to low oil prices was all the more worrying as it made them more vulnerable, Croft told CNBC on Monday.
"Venezuela is facing a pure economic and political crisis," Croft said, and would be the first country she would expect to default on its debt obligations but Algeria, Iraq, Libya and Nigeria posed bigger security, energy supply and counter-terrorism concerns, as well as economic.
"Four out of five of the countries in our 'fragile five" list has serious counter-terrorism concerns. These counties are frontline states in the struggle against ISIS (the militant group that also calls itself Islamic State)," Croft said.
"The risk of oil coming offline is much more likely to happen in Iraq and Libya is just so worrying as there is an incredible threat from ISIS. Algeria also has many counter-terrorism concerns…as does Nigeria," she said, adding that Nigeria's oil could also come offline if militant activity returns to the Niger Delta region and oil infrastructure is attacked.
"All these countries had serious political challenges before the collapse in oil prices and we don't see a soft landing for any of them," she warned.
Iraq is also some analysts' and governments' watch list as the authorities in Baghdad battle to stop IS from spreading further in the territory and taking more control of the country's oil producing facilities that help to fund its expansionist ambitions.
International aid agencies are well aware of the gloomy outlook for oil producers with Iraq already receiving an emergency loan of $833 million from the IMF in 2015.