In the blog OPEC deal pushes up oil prices John discussed the agreement made by OPEC members to reduce total oil output from the start of 2017, with Saudi Arabia making the biggest cut in output. The amount of oil being provided is a key determinant of the oil price and this agreement to reduce oil output contributed to rising prices. However, now oil prices have begun to fall (see chart below) with Saudi Arabia in particular recording an increase in output but all OPEC nations noting that global crude stocks had risen.
Supply and demand are key here and over the past few years, it has been a problem of excess supply that has led to low prices. OPEC nations have been aiming to achieve greater stability in global oil markets. Given the excess supply, it has been output of oil that the cartel member have been trying to cut. That was the point of the agreement that came into effect from the start of 2017. However, even with the recent increase in production Saudi Arabia notes that its output is still in line with its output target. The 10 percent fall in crude prices over such a short period of time has led to renewed concerns that pledges to reduce production will not be met. However Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry stated:
“Saudi Arabia assures the market that it is committed and determined to stabilising the global oil market by working closely with all other participating Opec and non-Opec producers.”
There were already concerns about the oil market relating to a potential increase in US shale oil output. Oil producers include OPEC and non-OPEC members and so while the cartel has agreed to cut production, it has little control over production from non-cartel members. This was one of the main factors that contributed to the oil price lows that we previously saw. OPEC’s forecast for oil production from non-OPEC member has been raised for 2017 and overall production from all oil producing nations looks set to increase for the year, despite OPEC curbing output by 1.2 million barrels per day. However, despite the 10% drop, the price of crude oil ($50) still remains well above its low of $28 in January 2016.
Oil prices are one of the key factors that affect inflation and with UK inflation expected to rise, this fall in oil prices may provide a small and temporary pause in the rise in the rate of inflation. There are many inter-related factors that affect oil prices and it really is a supply and demand market. If US shale oil production continues to rise, then total oil output will rise too and this will push down prices. If OPEC members undertake further production curbs, then this will push supply back down. Then we have demand to consider! Watch this space.
OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report OPEC (14/3/17)
Saudis stand by commitment to oil production cuts Financial Times, Anjli Raval and David Sheppard (15/3/17)
Oil prices fall after Opec stocks rise BBC News (14/3/17)
Crude oil price slumps to new three-month low after OPEC supply warning Independent, Alex Lawler (14/3/17)
Opinion: Saudi Arabis has a big motivating interest in keeping oil prices high MarketWatch, Thomas H Kee Jr. (14/3/17)
Why oil prices may come under even more pressure next month Investor’s Business Daily, Gillian Rich (13/3/17)
Oil price crashes back towards $50 as Opec raises US oil forecasts The Telegraph, Jillian Ambrose (14/3/17)
Data and Information
Brent Crude Prices Daily US Energy Information Administration
OPEC Homepage Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
- What are the demand and supply-side factors that affect oil prices? Do you think demand and supply are relatively elastic or inelastic? Explain your answer.
- Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate how OPEC production curbs will affect oil prices.
- If we now take into account US shale production rising, how will this affect oil prices?
- Why have OPEC members agreed to curb oil production? Is it a rational decision?
- What are the key points from the oil market report?
- How do oil prices affect a country’s rate of inflation?
- What, do you think, are oil prices likely to be at the end of the year? What about in ten years? Explain your answer.
- Should the USA continue to invest in new shale oil production?
A recent post on this blog referred to what sounds a fascinating new book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits Of Markets, by Michael Sandel. The Guardian also recently featured an extract from this book.
As the earlier blog post discussed, our lives are now dominated by markets. Economists typically believe markets are the best way to allocate resources as, if the market mechanism works correctly, the resulting equilibrium maximizes economic welfare as measured by the sum of consumer and producer surplus. In particular, all consumers that are willing to pay a price above the market price are able to buy the product.
Fundamental to the measurement of consumer welfare is the notion that consumers will be prepared to buy a product as long as their willingness to pay exceeds the price. It therefore follows that consumers are more likely to buy the product as the price falls and, if they do so, gain increasing surplus. However, the extract from Michael Sandel’s book provides a number of interesting examples which suggest that in some situations this might not be the case.
One example concerns the storage of nuclear waste in Switzerland. When surveyed, 51% of the residents of the small Swiss village of Wolfenschiessen, said that they would be prepared to accept the waste being stored nearby. However, somewhat surprisingly, this figure fell to 25% when the residents were told that they would be compensated for the inconvenience. Furthermore, the figure remained at this low level even when the proposed compensation was increased to over £5000 per person.
Sandel argues that this is because, once compensation is introduced, financial incentives crowd out public spirit. He suggests that:
putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them.
For economists, this potentially has important implications for how we evaluate market outcomes and our belief that the market equilibrium is always the optimal outcome. Furthermore, it suggests that in some circumstances allowing the market mechanism to allocate resources may not be the ideal solution.
What money can’t buy – review The Guardian, John Lanchester (17/05/12)
Michael Sandel: ‘We need to reason about how to value our bodies, human dignity, teaching and learning’ The Guardian, Decca Aitkenhead (27/5/12)
We must decide on the way we want to live now London Evening Standard, Matthew d’Ancona (23/05/12)
- How is consumer surplus calculated?
- How does the market mechanism allocate resources?
- How would you explain the responses of the residents in the Swiss village?
- Do you think the Swiss residents would respond in the same way if the compensation offered was increased even further?
- What type of products and services do you think might be less well suited to being provided by markets?
Peak oil is an important concept for the oil market. Peak oil is the moment in time at which the maximum extraction rate of oil is reached. From this moment on, production will decline. Basic economics tells us that the oil price will tend to rise from then on (unless demand were to fall faster), but the complexities of the demand and supply for oil dictate that there will not be a simple inverse relationship between the supply of oil and the price. In the articles below George Monbiot interviews Faith Birol, the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency and the Asia Times article looks at the extent to which world economies rely on oil for energy and other needs. Oil prices may be low at the moment and the market may be awash with excess oil and not enough demand for it, but this is a short term phenomenon; there is little doubt about the long-term direction of the price.
When will the oil run out? Guardian (15/12/08)
Be careful what you wish for Asia Times (15/1/09)
- Write a short paragraph explaining what is meant by peak oil.
- Using diagrams as appropriate, explain the changes that took place in the oil price in the last six months of 2008.
- Analyse the likely impact on the UK economy of arriving at peak oil output in (a) the short term and (b) the long term.
- Discuss when peak oil is likely to arrive.
As if there wasn’t enough bad economic news at the start of 2008, Majestic Wine has been warning wine lovers to stock up early as the price of their favourite tipple is likely to rise considerably during 2008. The company is warning that, due to the strong euro and poor harvests, the price of an average bottle may rise by as much as £1.
Wine lovers find no escape from the woes of world’s economy Times Online (4/1/08)
Majestic warns of champagne price rise Telegraph (4/1/08)
||Using diagrams as appropriate, illustrate the changes taking place in the market for champagne and other wines.
||Identify the principal determinants of the price elasticity of demand for wine.
||Discuss the extent to which a £1 rise in the price of a bottle of wine will affect the equilibrium market quantity.