What happens when the world’s number one oil exporter does something that heightens tensions with the world’s number three exporter? If you guessed that oil prices would spike, you’d probably be right most days. But not today.
Oil prices were down about 3.2% recently, as investors focus on economic aftershocks from Japan’s post-earthquake nuclear crisis. For now, investors don’t seem terribly concerned about the risk stemming from Saudi Arabia’s decision to send troops into neighboring Bahrain as part of a regional force, amid anti-government protests. Iran criticized the move and Bahrain recalled its ambassador from Tehran.
Iran is led by Shiites, as is the opposition in Bahrain, while Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are both Sunni monarchies. Saudi Arabia and Iran are vying for power in the region against the backdrop of the recent upheaval that has swept across the Middle East.
Together, Saudi Arabia and Iran export nearly 10 million barrels of oil per day, well over 10% of global production, underscoring the significance of any tension. “Developments in Bahrain are supportive of the oil market, as clashes between protestors and government forces increase the risk that we see the spread of real disruption to the region’s oil supplies,” Lawrence Eagles, an analyst at J.P. Morgan Chase said in a research note this morning. The situation may drive oil prices up eventually, but not yet.