September 2017 was a historic month for the global crude oil market. West Texas rose to $52 and Brent rose to $58 as financial markets finally accepted that Saudi Arabia has been successful in brokering high compliance rates with last year's Opec and Russia output cut deals.
In addition, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and seasonal refinery maintenance added to demand for crude cargoes even as the US inventory glut eased.
Turkey's threat to militarily intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan if Erbil votes to secede from Baghdad in its referendum added a geopolitical risk premium to the oil market.
Yet oil's bull run is only sustainable if Saudi Arabia plays the role of swing producer in an Opec that has cut output by 1.8 million barrels a day.
Yet its oil pricing and production decisions are made in a geopolitical and national security context.
Saudi Arabian oil policy has sought to manage the long-term interest of both producers and consumers.
This makes perfect sense since a recession in the Western world would only cause a free-fall in the price of oil, as happened in the 6 months after the failure of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.
Saudi Arabia engineered a 4-million-barrel-a-day Opec oil output cut in 2009, the biggest in the history of the group.
The kingdom also bore the disproportionate financial cost of the Opec output cut but managed to end the oil-price free-fall.
Within 3 years, despite the Greek debt crisis and the Syrian civil war, Brent crude prices were trading at $100 again.
Brent only collapsed in 2014-15 as the $ Index surged, Chinese oil demand sagged and Saudi Arabia refused to defend oil prices at $100 a barrel, as former Saudi oil minister Ali Al Naimi had previously promised to do so.
The oil price crash continued in 2015 and early 2016, when Brent fell below $30 amid a dramatic sell off in the Chinese and global stock markets.
Saudi Arabia's December 2016 output cut was nowhere near the scale of its 2009 Opec output cut.
It was obvious that 1.2 million barrel a day the Opec output cut was not sufficient to rebalance the market if Iraq, Iran, Algeria and even Russia were unwilling to cut production, let alone the exempt states granted by the Opec to Libya and Nigeria.
In fact, it was surprising that Brent crude traded at $50-$56 a barrel in the 1st 4 months of 2016, a sign that the oil market, while nervous, was unwilling to bet against Saudi Arabia's power to nudge prices in the $50-$60 range.
However, this willingness evaporated in June 2017 amid compelling evidence of a surge in US shale output, a surge in US rig counts and the unmistakable evidence of a global inventory glut.
Not even a major 10 % fall in the $ Index and increased geopolitical risks related to Russia/Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Yemen and North Korea was sufficient to ignite a major rally in oil prices.
Saudi Arabia should increase the size of its output cut in coordination with Kuwait, the UAE, Russia, Iraq and Iran.
This would give a psychological boost to oil prices and enable Brent crude to rise above the $55-$56 level witnessed just after the Vienna deal in late 2016.
The 2014-16 oil price crash has had a seismic impact on capex spending in the global oil and gas markets.
Wall Street economists estimate $400 billion in capex has been cancelled or deferred.
While this fall in conventional capex has been offset by the 800,000 extra barrels produced by US shale oil drillers, the fact remains that the world needs slightly higher prices now to avoid another chaotic oil supply shock.
A $65-$70 Brent price range would be welcomed by Saudi Arabia as it plans the historic IPO of Aramco in 2018.