The Difficulty of Predicting the Direction of Oil Prices |
Al Hayat - 14 June, 2012
Author: Randa Takieddine
The lobbies of Vienna's biggest hotels are witnessing, during the OPEC conferences, a heavy presence of western economic advisers, financial agencies, specialists and analysts of oil market conditions, who often cross the Atlantic to monitor events. What are they monitoring? What will the press learn from the oil minister of OPEC's biggest producer, Saudi Arabia? What will it do? Will it increase production, or reduce it? What kind of price level does Saudi Arabia want to see? One hundred dollars a barrel, or more, or less? These people are not journalists, but their profession resembles that of the press, as they attempt to obtain news that will impact global oil markets, in terms of the direction of oil prices. In fact, in the last three months, the OPEC price has dropped about $ 10, from $ 108.07 a barrel in May to $ 97.34 in June. There have been many explanations for this drop, such as the financial crises in Greece, Spain and Italy and the sluggishness of the European economy, the lack of a take-off in the American economy, and the slowdown in growth in China and emerging countries. However, all of these factors were present when OPEC's production level stayed constant, with Saudi Arabia producing 9.9 million barrels a day, under the same conditions. It is said that geopolitical tension was behind the price rise, but the tension continues today. Iran continues to insist on developing its nuclear weapons and Israel continues to threaten that a military operation against Iran is still likely, while the tension in the Middle East continues, due to the continuing crisis in Syria. Iraq is experiencing poor political and security conditions, as well as structural corruption, which do not guarantee the country's stability. All of these conditions existed when prices rose to more than $ 120 a barrel, and these conditions continue to exist as prices fall.
Speculation in financial markets is playing a significant role. In June, brokers in financial markets wagered over the long run on a rise in prices, and spurred investors to wager on this rise. Now, they are betting on a drop in prices in the short term. Thus, it is difficult to predict whether the price will rise once again, or whether it will drop, because global economic growth is suffering from a decline. Saudi Arabia is determined to protect its interests, and the world's interests. The Kingdom produces enough oil to meet the needs of the world and its own clients, and provide the financial reserves needed to see the development of the country and the people. It is true that Saudi Arabia and its production can have an impact on the price of oil, if it wanted, for example, to significantly reduce production. However, it is a country that acts responsibly, and is aware that a large rise in oil prices will affect demand and accelerate the development of alternative energy sources. This happened in the US, in the development of gas and shale oil; within a decade it became independent of oil exports from the Middle East, but continues to be concerned with a region that affects international oil prices, and with the oil price level, even if speculators are now the ones who are responsible for developments in prices.
It is difficult now to predict the direction the price of oil will take and whether it will continue to decline or rise again, as the conditions have not changed in both cases and the level of production is still adequate and meets the demand. But no one can predict what direction the price will take, even though logic says that the world will still need oil for a long time and that tensions in the region will maintain the concerns over the sources of vital energy which will not return to previous levels, i.e. $ 40 and $ 45 a barrel. This time is long gone, and OPEC has learned to manage its affairs to deal with such a drop.