It's ever so tempting to ignore the upcoming OPEC meeting.
In the aftermath of last month's Doha debacle, when oil ministers bolted from the gathering convened by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries with no new deal on production levels, some observers argue there's little reason to expect major action aimed at lifting crude prices now.
But hold on: There are good reasons for oil markets, and those who track them, to pay attention to the cartel's proceedings in Vienna on June 2.
Chief among them is that there's an important new guy at the table.
Early this month, Saudi Arabia named Khalid al-Falih as oil minister, replacing Ali al-Naimi, cryptic spokesman for the kingdom's oil policy and OPEC big shot for more than two decades.
The change at the crucial post is one of several key moves made by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose power as shot-caller keeps growing. Another is the planned initial public offering of a stake in state-owned Saudi Aramco, where the new oil minister was previously president and chief executive officer.
Saudi Arabia's strategy of protecting its global market share by keeping the taps open and sweating out higher-cost producers, such as U.S. shale oil companies, is only expected to harden with the ministry under new management.
Under a plan called Vision 2030, Prince Mohammed has said he's intent on pulling the Persian Gulf nation, whose oil reserves are the world's largest, away from its huge reliance on hydrocarbons by diversifying the economy. He has called for oil to account for half of government revenue as early as four years from now, from more than four-fifths today.
That doesn't point to any kind of long-term strategy of propping up prices.
"As more Saudi government revenues come from non-oil sources and a greater share of the economy relies on non-oil and private sector activities, defending higher oil prices for the world at large and maximizing short-term oil revenues become less important," RS Energy Group chief economist Judith Dwarkin wrote in a recent report.
There's a tale of two OPECs, though. While all this is playing out in Riyadh, other members of the organization are in dire economic straits owing to more than a year and a half of weak crude prices.
There's no better example than Venezuela, where public anger over food, medicine and water shortages as well as electricity cuts is threatening President Nicolas Maduro's grasp on power.
As with the last meeting in Qatar, the biggest hurdle to a deal on production ceilings at the upcoming confab is Iran, where crude exports are growing following years of Western sanctions. It has ruled out limiting production.
Meanwhile, crude prices are rising anyway, not because of any OPEC plan to cut production, but because of the financial necessity among non-OPEC players to do it. There's also the little matter of more than one million barrels a day of Canadian crude being off the market for most of this month because of the wildfires that destroyed parts of Fort McMurray, Alta.
U.S. benchmark West Texas intermediate oil settled at $48.62 (U.S.) a barrel on Tuesday, its highest since early October. It's up 85 per cent from its February low.
Prices were stabilizing even before the fire-related outages, as U.S. shale production began slipping, owing to the massive clawback in drilling as companies sought to preserve precious cash.
The growing inventories of crude worldwide that crushed prices will end this year, and flip to withdrawals next year, if Ms. Dwarkin's prediction plays out. That's just the change oil bulls have been aching for.
These calculations will certainly play into the OPEC discussions in Vienna. The likelihood is that, despite the impact of oil's downturn on members with weaker economies, there will be no communiqué at the end of the get-together trumpeting a hard-and-fast production ceiling. After all, the market has taken care of itself, painful as that's been for some governments – including Canada's and Alberta's.
But that doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of new tea leaves to read from a multinational price-setting organization whose members are unable to agree on setting prices.