As the odds of Republican Donald Trump’s presidential election win mounted on Tuesday night, oil prices, along with most stock market indicators, plummeted to lows not seen in months before rallying Wednesday.
Brent crude (LCOC1), an international benchmark, fell by around 4 percent Tuesday, reaching a low of $44.40 at around 10:30 p.m., as Trump’s lead in the electoral vote count solidified. Ahead of market close Wednesday, it had risen to $46.34—a few cents below Tuesday’s high. U.S. crude (CLC1) took a dramatic dive between Tuesday evening and midnight when it fell about 4 percent to a low of $43.35, before rising to a high of $45.95 by Wednesday afternoon.
“There’s a euphoria in the market and people are buying,” Mark Waggoner, president of the commodities brokerage Excel Futures, told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday. “People were sitting on the sidelines and are now jumping in.”
But what did Trump winning the highest U.S. government office have to do with the price of oil? And if the likelihood of his presidency caused oil futures to drop, why did prices surge after Trump’s acceptance speech Wednesday?
The rapid-fire zigzag in prices, while related to the shock and uncertainty surrounding what was widely considered an upset in the presidential election, is also a consequence of the sector’s lack of knowledge as far as what changes Trump will bring to the oil industry.
“Trump’s energy-related policies are probably not even known in detail to the president-elect himself—much less knowable by anyone else,” Reuters senior market analyst John Kemp, who specializes in commodities and energy, wrote Wednesday. “In contrast to his rival Hillary Clinton, who conducted a classic programmatic campaign, accompanied by highly detailed energy policies, Trump mounted a values-based campaign, with few detailed commitments.”
Indeed, Trump’s campaign site promises the president-elect will “reduce all barriers to responsible energy production,” “declare American energy dominance,” make the U.S. “totally independent” from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and “create millions of new jobs” while “protect[ing] clean air and clean water.”
If Trump were to support a massive energy production escalation—his site pledges to “unleash” America’s natural energy resources—the ballooning supply would be sure to drive down prices, perhaps much lower than Tuesday night’s levels, which would be problematic for American oil and gas companies already reporting sagging growth numbers. It would also counteract OPEC’s plans to gouge prices by colluding to trim the cartel’s supply at a meeting at the end of November.
And that’s not the only way Trump could cause an oil supply explosion, as CNBC’s Stephen Sedgwick pointed out in a Wednesday op-ed. Though he has long condemned the Iran nuclear deal, and therefore could stymie foreign investment in the country’s energy sector, he is also friendly with Russia, and therefore likely to alleviate energy industry sanctions against the Kremlin.
So that may explain the price collapse on Tuesday night, but what about Wednesday’s rally?
Another element of Trump’s relatively vague energy plan involves aggressive deregulation of the oil and gas industry, which means more money for Big Oil to funnel into other areas, such as exploration and capital budgets, which have suffered from major cost cuts this year. Still, oil industry restrictions put in place by outgoing president Barack Obama’s administration can’t be undone overnight.
But Trump is also not the only factor influencing the price of oil. In its report for the week ending Nov. 4, the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced that U.S. commercial crude oil inventories rose by 2.4 million barrels over the previous week ending Oct. 28.
Still, the report affected prices only modestly, analysts told Reuters Wednesday, a sign that much of the industry’s murky future remains sensitive to the decisions of president-elect Trump.