Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Basic Guide to Tanking Petrol Prices.

Recent months have seen staggering developments unfolding in the petroleum market. The price of Brent Crude Oil has fallen from roughly $110 per barrel in July 2014 to its current rate of $62.04 (as of the 17th of February), a change that has had huge effects on businesses, individuals and entire economies.

Why has it happened?
Simply put, there has been an oversupply of oil in the market, exacerbated hugely by the decision of OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) in November 2014 to avoid cutting output. More oil, more supply, means cheaper and more open availability.

Source: BBC News
How does it affect me?
Provided that you're neither a business owner nor a Head of State, the most likely effect has been that you will have seen the prices at the petrol pumps fall dramatically. In the UK, the past year has seen petrol and diesel prices fall by around 16.2%, making petrol far cheaper as it approaches the £1 mark. This has meant that, in general, the cost of living has fallen for the public- not only do we need to spend less on petrol now, but the fall in prices have stalled inflation rates. 
Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney claims that inflation is likely to turn to deflation in the following months, highlighting the economy's deep dependence on petrol; something we must see as potentially threatening as well as beneficial as this appears. Imagine if petrol prices had risen. Devastating events like the 1973 Oil Crisis, when Arab oil producers enforced an embargo on Western Israel-supporting nations, leading to the quadrupling of oil prices in the USA, have shown the chaos our dependence on oil can cause.
Oil plays a massive role in all of our lives; directly through our own use, and indirectly through its use to create and bring to us what we consume. Therefore the fall in prices inevitably has knock on effects that change life for us.

Is there a threat of spiralling deflation?
Not quite. Spiralling deflation is usually caused by an oversupply of money, or overproduction of goods in the economy. A hole is dug that the economy must climb out of itself in this case. However, the deflation caused by falling oil prices is different. Oil prices are more in the hands of oil producing superpowers rather than most Western nations, which in this case is good. Oil prices will inevitably plateau and begin to climb back up, and this will provide the effective counterbalance to deflation experienced in the West. Provided that this occurs before any major deflationary disasters, this means we are relatively safe from spiralling deflation- we are in a hole, but think of it as a whole with an elevator out available to us.

How does it affect national economies?
The price fall has certainly been bad news for countries heavily dependent on oil revenues such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran. Collapsing prices for these nations hit them hard as it means falling oil revenues. The International Energy Agency (IEA) claims Russia will be the hardest hit by this the hardest, as the country is already being hit my Western economic sanctions and a suffering ruble. And indeed, earlier this month the Russian central bank estimated that the price drop will lead to a $160bn fall in government revenue over the next year. According to Alejandro Werner, director of the IMF's Western Hemisphere division, the fall in oil prices is having devastating effects on the Venezuelan economy as well- stating "each $10 decline in oil prices worsens Venezuela's trade balance by 3.5 percent of GDP, a bigger effect by far than for any other country in the region", causing spiralling inflation and intense economic turmoil in the South American oil giant.

How does it affect the environment?
Undoubtedly, the fall in oil prices will have negative effects on the environment. It will cause not just travelling by car but also by plane to become more affordable, and people are likely to try to take advantage of this while they can; leading to increased greenhouse emissions and further damage to the environment. Whether the period of low oil prices will be long enough to make this damage of a substantial nature is yet to be seen, however. 

So what does the future hold for petrol prices?
It is of course impossible to predict the future exactly, but it seems that a relatively unspectacular equilibration of the market will take place. As prices fall, consumers are likely to become more carefree in their spending, enjoying the reduced costs of travelling and goods in general. This will cut down the world's supply of oil, leading to prices rising once more and resurfacing to roughly where they were before they fell. On the other hand, deflation could spiral down if the oil producing nations maintain or increase their oil output, economic crisis could hit the world yet again and a global conflict could emerge as nations suffering from the falling oil prices seek to exact revenge for the world's relative lack of movement over the matter.
Let's hope for the former.

Mohammad Lone Editor