The case begins, as it did in January 2015, by observing that the oil market is no longer controlled by the monopoly power of OPEC (or the Saudi government and OPEC). Because of new sources of supply, advances in energy technology, and environmental constraints, oil is now operating under a regime of competitive pricing, like other commodities do.Leer más...
This is what happened for two decades from 1985 to 2004, and, as the chart below shows, trading in the spot market during the past 18 months has been consistent with this idea. So has trading in the futures market: oil for delivery in 2020 has fallen to $56, from $75 a year ago.
If this competitive regime continues, the price of oil will no longer be determined by the needs and desires of oil-producing governments. Saudi Arabia or Russia may want, or even “need,” an oil price of $70 or $80 to balance their budgets. But oil producers’ need for a certain price does not mean that they can achieve it, any more than iron-ore or copper producers can achieve whatever price they “need” to keep paying the dividends their shareholders expect or want.
Similarly, the fact that many debt-burdened shale producers will go bankrupt if the oil price stays below $50 is no reason to expect a rebound. These companies will simply lose their oil properties to banks or competitors with stronger finances. The new owners will then start to pump oil again from the same acreage, provided prices are above the marginal cost of production, which will now exclude any interest payments on loans that are written off.
A clear illustration of the “regime change” that has taken place in the oil market is the current rebound in prices to around the $50 level (the likely ceiling of the new trading range). The steepest part of this increase occurred after April 17, when OPEC failed to agree on a new price target and persuade the Saudi, Russian, and Iranian governments to coordinate the output cuts that would be required to achieve any such target. Now that all of the main oil producers are unequivocally committed to maximizing production, regardless of the impact prices, oil will continue to trade just like any other commodity (for example, iron ore) that is in oversupply in a competitive market. Prices will be determined as described in any standard economics textbook: by the marginal costs of the last supplier whose production is needed to meet global demand.