Oil and Gas

Shakeup won’t change policy: Former Saudi oil exec

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Future of Saudi Arabia
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The government shakeup in Saudi Arabia will not result in any real change in the kingdom's oil production or its international strategy, a former Saudi oil executive said Monday.

Over the weekend, Ali al-Naimi ended his 20-year run as Saudi Arabia's oil minister. He has been replaced by Khalid al-Falih, chairman of the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco.

The reshuffling is more about improving the domestic outlook for the kingdom, said Sadad al-Husseini, president of Husseini Energy and a former executive with Saudi Aramco.

"The policy is set at a national level. The minister of petroleum just executes policy," he said in an interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch."

That policy has been one of high crude production despite low oil prices.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi in Doha, Qatar.
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CNBC contributor Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, also doesn't think the change in leadership will lead to a policy shift, because, she said, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been setting oil policy for some time.

"Right now Mohammad bin Salman seems to have little use for the OPEC cartel. He's seemingly fine with the current price environment because he's very focused on this big overhaul of the Saudi economy," Croft told CNBC's "Closing Bell" Monday.

She thinks the real question is whether al-Falih will have the authority to set the kingdom's policy.

"One of the reasons that people think Saudi policy has become erratic is it's being set by this 30-year-old deputy crown prince who is really in charge of almost everything of importance in Saudi Arabia, and the policy can swing quite wildly depending on what he wants in a given day," she said.

While the deputy crown prince is in charge, al-Husseini believes al-Falih will bring a lot of judgment and perspective to the OPEC meetings.

"He has been in the business for many decades. He is highly respected by both Prince Mohammad as well as his colleagues," he said.

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For Michael Cohen, head of energy commodities research at Barclays, the issue to watch isn't necessarily the change in oil leadership but what is involved in the kingdom's economic blueprint called "Saudi Vision 2030." The plan sets out policy and budgetary changes to be implemented over the next 15 years in the hope of making the kingdom less reliant on crude.

"This is part of a larger generational shift that has been going on in Saudi Arabia," he said in an interview with "Power Lunch."

Specifically, he's concerned about the meaning behind the renaming of the Petroleum Ministry to the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources.

"Putting petroleum and oil exports in the broader energy package means that what Saudi Arabia used to prioritize in terms of trying to put a dialogue together with other OPEC members is not going to be the highest priority in the years ahead," said Cohen.

— CNBC's Huileng Tan contributed to this report.