Monday, February 05, 2018

Would Trump Sanction Venezuelan Oil?

Rex Tillerson says the U.S. is considering restricting oil imports from Venezuela and U.S. export of refined products back. This had not been on the table in any serious way before because it will impact the U.S. economy directly.

“We are looking at options and we are looking at how to mitigate the impacts on U.S. business interests” and on other countries in the region, Tillerson said.

One thing working in the Trump administration's favor is that Venezuela's inability to produce has decreased the amount of Venezuelan oil that the U.S. consumes. Here's a simple chart you can recreate at the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

You can also see month to month going back to 1993. The drop is drastic. The question is whether the U.S. can find alternatives ahead of time that counterbalance the loss. I assume the administration will not pursue this policy if it means gas prices go up, especially when the midterm elections are dicey already (though interestingly Tillerson only mentioned "business interests" and not "average American" so assumptions are problematic). OPEC is already holding firm and is "over-compliant" because Venezuelan production is at its lowest level since 1989. In short, keeping prices low will be challenging.

I've long ceased trying to predict what Trump will do. But this will be a tricky game to play given its impact on U.S. domestic politics.


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