OPEC today decided to hold oil production at current levels, even though prices are at a level which clearly threaten economic growth. They even recognised this risk in their statement, ‘highlighting the economic slowdown in the USA, which together with the deepening credit crisis in financial markets, is increasing the downside risks for world economic growth and, consequently, demand for crude oil’.
Normally, faced with this outlook, OPEC would have flooded the market with crude, in order to bring prices down and help support the world economy. Clearly their priorities have changed, and we appear to be back to the difficult times of 1973/4 and 1979/80, when OPEC similarly held production whilst the world economy went into a downturn.
OPEC’s statement seems to reflect a growing hostility towards the US over a number of issues, including the weak US$ (as noted by the New York Times). Saudi Arabia, the leading OPEC moderate, clearly feels let down by the lack of progress in the Middle East peace talks. And OPEC also decided to support Venezuela’s ‘sovereign rights over its natural resources’ in its dispute with ExxonMobil, calling on EM to hold back from further legal actions to support its claims.
Faced with this background, chemical company planners need to rethink their crude oil scenarios for the year. I argued back in October that the consensus $70/bbl forecast looked too optimistic. Now, with OPEC taking a hard line, and western investors starting to panic over the value of the US$, we are in uncharted and potentially dangerous territory.