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What Succession in Saudi Arabia Means for Oil Prices

King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch and one of the U.S.’s closest Arab allies, died at the age of 90 after battling pneumonia.  NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

News that Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud passed away sent oil prices sharply higher on Friday, but analysts dismissed the move as a knee-jerk reaction, noting the recent trend remains intact.

"It's not an extraordinary move in oil prices, given the recent volatility and turmoil in the oil markets," said Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). "Oil prices have dropped 60 percent over the past six months — compared to that, [today's move] is not earth shattering," he said.

Nymex WTI crude oil futures rose as much as 2.5 percent to $47.76 after the news broke but trended back down to $46.59 at 4:22 a.m. ET. Brent crude also rose over 2.5 percent to a high of $49.80 shortly after opening and at 4:22 a.m. ET was trading at $49.06.

"It's just the markets pricing in any potential uncertainty over the succession. Prices will settle back down: current levels may hold for a couple of weeks, or whenever the new king comes out and confirms the current policy will be continued," said Phillip Futures investment analyst Daniel Ang.

Uncertainty tends to fuel speculation, which in turn drives up prices, according to Takayuki Nogami, senior economist at government-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC). He believes prices will trend back down once the markets digest the news; the fundamentals of the oil markets — over-supply in a slowing global economy — won't change, he said.

"[And] the succession in Saudi Arabia itself will be about continuity — in Saudi Arabia, the king makes policy decisions in consensus with other royal family members," he said.

Saudi Arabia led OPEC's decision to maintain its production levels on November, triggering a further collapse in oil prices. Oil prices have plunged more than 50 percent since mid-2014, with Brent at $48.52 a barrel at Thursday's close, and Nymex crude at $46.31.