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SPI Management Newsletter 08.09.23

Saudi Arabia's Push for Higher Oil Prices Poses Challenge for Biden Administration

Saudi Arabia and Russia's joint efforts to drive oil prices towards $100 a barrel is creating a new set of challenges for President Joe Biden, particularly as he focuses on economic stability and controlling inflation for his re-election campaign. Brent crude prices recently exceeded $90 a barrel for the first time this year, following an extension of oil supply cuts by the two nations.

This price hike comes at a critical time for the U.S., both in terms of foreign relations and domestic politics. On one hand, escalating oil prices could strain U.S.-Saudi relations, precisely when the U.S. is seeking to strengthen alliances against Russia and improve ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, rising fuel costs could sour public perception of the economy, undermining the White House's claims that Biden’s economic policies are effective. High gas prices could also hamper the Federal Reserve's plans, potentially compelling it to further raise already high interest rates to mitigate inflation. The situation is further complicated by the limited options left for the U.S. to control oil prices. The once-thriving shale sector is not as robust as before, and the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve is at its lowest since 1983.

The ongoing situation raises questions about the administration's ability to balance domestic economic concerns with foreign policy objectives, particularly as it tries to navigate complicated relationships with key global players like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia itself has various motives for maintaining high oil prices, including funding ambitious projects like its Vision 2030 reform initiative. While analysts suggest that Riyadh holds significant leverage in both domestic and international discussions, it's clear that the situation presents a multifaceted challenge for the Biden administration as the election season looms.

China's Ascent to World's Largest Economy No Longer Assured

Economic experts and Wall Street analysts have been disenchanted by China's recent economic outcomes, sparking debates about Beijing's commitment to meaningful economic reforms over short-term stimulus measures. Many were hopeful that a robust stimulus package could spur domestic and global growth, akin to the one China deployed in 2008. However, signs point to ongoing economic stagnation, forcing a reassessment of how China will overhaul its growth approach.

Two key issues have hampered China's economy in 2023: a tepid rebound from stringent COVID-19 policies and longer-term structural issues, such as over- dependence on real estate, local debt, inefficient state- owned companies, and low-end manufacturing. Additional challenges like regulatory crackdowns, geopolitical tensions, and reduced foreign investment have further complicated matters.

Although China has recently announced a series of minor economic boosts, they are largely seen as inadequate and lacking a comprehensive strategy. The nation faces not just sluggish growth but also financial vulnerabilities, including high levels of indebtedness that could escalate into systemic risks. This constrains Beijing's ability to rely on traditional stimulus methods without jeopardizing long-term financial stability.

Externally, the growing economic rift between China and the U.S. continues to be a concern, potentially affecting trade, foreign investment, and market confidence. China's leadership appears cautious about using large- scale stimulus, wary that it could trap the country in a middle-income status, a challenge that has stymied many developing nations aiming to become advanced economies.

Instead, Chinese authorities seem to be focusing on incremental policy changes aimed at transitioning to higher-value sectors like green energy, advanced manufacturing, and artificial intelligence.

It's becoming increasingly evident that China is unlikely to revert to its former role as a potent global economic driver in the near term. Even in the longer run, the challenges of reorienting its economy amid geopolitical complexities and centralization tendencies cast doubt on China's future economic primacy. Contrary to widespread belief, China becoming the world's largest economy is no longer a foregone conclusion.

Adapted from WSJ, FT, NYT, Reuters, CNBC, Bloomberg

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