Reaction to $100 oil has been swift. Yesterday, the Chinese State Council decided to freeze the prices of oil products, natural gas and electricity, as well as public transportation. A measure of the government’s concern is that the meeting to approve the freeze was attended by premier Wen Jiabao.
Chinese inflation is now at 6.9% and the Council noted that ‘China faces relatively large pressures of further price increases (as) prices of crude oil, grains and other primary products are still rising on the international market’.
So as expected, $100 oil prices are already having an impact on psychology. The Chinese government has been most aggressive in searching for new sources of oil imports. But even they are now starting to worry about the implications of unlimited consumption of oil and oil-based products.
Earlier this week, the State Council also announced a decision to ban ultra-thin plastic bags, and to charge customers for thicker plastic bags. China uses around 3bn plastic bags a year, which requires 37m bbls of crude per year. But even if the ban is totally successful, it will save less than two days of total oil consumption.
If major energy importers such as China have decided to prioritise oil use, and have started by banning plastic bags, what other petchem products will be next affected? And if other countries follow this lead, what will be the impact on petchem demand generally?