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Crude Realities

Five oil economies you (probably) didn’t know about, but should

Villagers mill about the dirt streets of the impoverished village of Akaraolu, Nigeria while the two-hundred-foot tall Oshie gas flare looms constantly in the background.
Chris Hondros | Getty Images

Just about everyone knows about major oil producers like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and Venezuela. Yet how much is known about some of the smaller nations that play a role in lubricating the machinery that keeps the world supplied with oil?

With all the scrutiny on OPEC countries and noncartel giants, places like Nigeria, Angola, Gabon and Trinidad — which some people may not realize is the largest oil and natural gas producer in the Caribbean — are often overlooked. Like their larger cohorts in the global oil market, they have also found themselves under severe pressure from falling oil prices. Still, the dynamics in these individual countries are worth taking a look at, especially because crude markets remain as volatile as ever.

CNBC surveyed the landscape, and highlighted some of the smaller oil producers that fly under the radar, but arguably deserve more attention as developments in the world economy shape their domestic economies.

Angola: A mess with opportunity

Local youths play on the beach beyond heavy lifting shipping cranes on barges moored off the shoreline in Luanda, Angola.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The bear market in commodities has put considerable pressure on Angola, which is highly dependent on oil and has one of the least diversified economies in the world. About 80 percent of government revenue comes from crude, which has sent public finances crashing.

Recently, the ruling party instituted austerity measures that sliced the government budget by 50 percent, but analysts at Standard & Poor's were unimpressed: On Friday, the agency cut the country's outlook to negative because of slumping growth prospects.

"The risks of the low oil price are rising inflation, currency devaluation, and social and economic difficulties," Claire Lawrie, Africa energy lead at Ernst & Young, told CNBC recently. She added there are still opportunities in the country's gas sector.

Colombia: Outlasting its neighbors

Employees speak on a balcony at the Refineria de Cartagena in Colombia on May 20, 2016.
Mariana Grief | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Andean nation has not been completely immune to the slump in oil prices that has undermined other commodity-dependent economies. At the same time, Colombia has managed to coast in an economy that's hammering places like Venezuela, its geographic neighbor in the throes of an economic collapse.

Colombia ranks behind Venezuela and Brazil as one of South America's largest oil exporters, the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes, producing about 1 million barrels per day. The country is also pouring money into a $70 billion multiyear infrastructure spending project.

"Given the intensity of the oil price shock, it is our view that Colombia's recent growth performance has been quite strong," Michael Heydt, lead Colombia analyst and a vice president at DBRS, told CNBC recently. "Colombia's medium-term prospects are also good compared to regional peers," he said.

Gabon 'stable' despite oil slump

Oil production in Gabon
Desirey Minkoh | AFP | Getty Images

The West African nation only recently rejoined OPEC. The move may help to deepen commercial and financial relationships with other cartel members. Gabon produces about 240,000 barrels of oil per day, making it the smallest of OPEC's oil producers. Gabon remains a small country by population, but one with relatively high per capita growth.

"Oil production is stable, which is supportive for the country's creditworthiness. It is also making some progress on economic diversification, which is important," said Morgan Harting, senior portfolio manager at AllianceBernstein, who oversees the firm's emerging market multi-asset portfolio.

Nigeria: A 'borderline failed state'

A man looks on as flares burn from pipes at an oil flow station in Idu, Rivers State, Nigeria.
George Osodi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Once one of the crown economic jewels of West Africa, Nigeria has been hammered by the oil slump. The country is not in as bad a shape as Venezuela, but comes awfully close: The government has been forced to battle terrorist elements, double-digit inflation and widespread energy shortages. A few months ago, short seller James Chanos said Nigeria was "caught in a macro hurricane," and was a "borderline failed state."

Trinidad and Tobago: Still resilient

A flame burns at an oil refinery during a match at Guaracara Park in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad.

Trinidad is about more than colorful carnivals and Soca music, arguably the country's most recognizable cultural exports. The Caribbean's wealthiest nation has a history in oil and gas production that goes back more than 100 years, but churns out only 70,000 barrels per day. Trinidad is also the world's largest ammonia exporter and a methanol powerhouse, according to IHS Global Insight data.

Oil's tumble has dealt the economy a stiff blow, but International Monetary Fund officials said in March that Trinidad "still has enormous strengths, including a well-educated workforce and a stable political system."