Why oil prices are falling despite the rise of ISIS


Vivek Kaul

All other things staying the same, oil prices have always been inversely proportional to peace in the Middle East. The moment any tension or war breaks out in the Middle East, oil prices start rising. The logic is pretty straight forward given that the region has some of the biggest oil fields in the world and produces bulk of the oil that the world consumes.
Any tension is seen as a threat to supply of oil in the future, and taking that possibility into account, oil prices start to go up.
But this theory doesn’t seem to be working in the recent past. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been waging a war in the region for a while now, but oil prices instead of going up, have been coming down. The international crude oil price of Indian Basket as on September 30, 2014, stood at $ 95.34 per barrel (bbl). The price must have fallen more since then, but no new data has been released given that the government has been on a five day holiday.
The brent crude oil is currently trading at around $92.8 per barrel. This is a fall of more than 19% since June 2014. The more ISIS has grown stronger in the Middle East, the more oil prices have fallen.
How does one explain this dichotomy? There are multiple reasons behind this. ISIS has managed to capture the largest oilfield in Syria and now controls 60% of the oil production in the country. Nevertheless this has had no impact on the price of oil globally. The reason for this is straightforward. Syria is the 32nd largest producer of oil in the world and in 2013 produced only 0.48% of the oil produced globally.
ISIS has also managed to take over a number of oil fields in Iraq. But they haven’t been able to move into the Southern part of the country where the majority of the oilfields are located. Iraq is the seventh largest producer of oil in the world and in 2013 produced around 3.75% of global oil. Hence, any disruption of oil supply in Iraq will have some impact on global prices. But that hasn’t happened.
As Crisil Research explains in a research report titled
Falling crude, LNG, coal prices huge positive for India “This is because the likelihood of Islamic State progressing towards southern Iraq, which has about 65-70% of the country’s oil production and reserves, seems minimal. For one, that part of Iraq is dominated by Shia Muslims who do not support Islamic State.”
Further, ISIS also needs money to keep running their operations. And that means that they need to keep pumping oil out of the oilfields that they have captured. The oil is sold at a discount to the world price of oil, to Turkey, which in turn, resells it in Europe. This is another reason why oil prices haven’t risen. The supply from the captured oilfields is still hitting the world market.
Over and above this, the oil supply from Libya is coming back. A newsreport points out that Libya is pumping close to 925,000 barrels of oil per day. This has been the highest since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown from power in Libya. Libya in 2013 produced around 0.85% of global oil production. These are the short term reasons as to why the price of oil hasn’t gone up, despite the advance of the ISIS.
There are several long term reasons as well. The United States and Canada are producing much more oil than they were a few years back. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that United States in 2013 produced 12.35 million barrels per day. This is a massive increase of 35% since 2009. A recent report in the www.businessinsider.com points out that “In 2010 the [United States] still imported half of the crude it consumed, but the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that will fall to little more than 20 percent next year.”
In case of Canada the production has gone up by 22.8% to 4.07 million barrels per day between 2009 to 2013. This massive increase in oil production has come from a boom in shale oil output. As a recent report in the Financial Times pointed out “Booming shale oil output has pushed US production to a 28-year high at the expense of imports.”
This has led to a situation where the United States has stopped importing oil from countries it was doing earlier. Take the case of Nigeria. The country did not import a single barrel of oil to the United States in July 2014. The country till four years back was one of the top 5 exporters of oil to the United States.
In fact as a October 2 blog on the Financial Times website points out “At its peak in February 2006, the US imported 1.3m b/d from Nigeria – equal to roughly one super-tanker the size of the Exxon Valdez every day. By 2012, Nigeria was already selling just 0.5m b/d, but was still one of the top-5 suppliers to the US, alongside Saudi Arabia, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.”
Columbian oil exports to the United States have also fallen by a one third up to July this year, in comparison to the same period last year.
All this oil which was going to the United States earlier is now hitting the world market and is a major reason why oil prices have not rallied in the recent past. Interestingly, the US production of oil is now more than one third of the oil being produced in the Middle East. All this has had a huge impact on oil prices given that the United States is the biggest consumer of oil in the world.
Higher supplies from Iran are also expected to hit the market. Currently the country is facing international sanctions and is not allowed to sell a major portion of the oil that it produces. In 2013, Iran produced 4.77% of the total global oil production and was the fourth largest producer of oil in the world. As Crisil Research points out “In case of Iran, production is expected to return to the pre-sanctions levels of 4.4 mbpd from current levels of 3.1 mbpd as Iran is expected to co-operate with the international community after the change of regime post-elections.”
This is expected to happen because over the last two years international sanctions have had a severe impact on Iran. “In 2012 and 2013, Iran’s GDP registered a negative growth, inflation rose more than 60% cumulatively, and Iranian Rial depreciated by more than 85% cumulatively. Since Iran’s economy is oil-dependent, with oil exports contributing to ~85% of total exports, it will have to increase its oil exports to repair its economy,” Crisil research points out.
All these reasons, along with the fact that China’s economic growth is slowing down have ensured that oil prices haven’t gone up in the recent past. China is the second largest consumer of oil in the world after the United States.
In the recent past several analysts have suggested that Saudi Arabia and United States are working together to drive down the price of oil. This is being done to cut off the funding of ISIS. As oil prices fall, the price at which ISIS will have to sell oil will fall further. And that way, they amount of money they earn will come down. The question that needs to be answered is that how much truth does this theory have. I will try and answer that in the next piece. Watch this space.
The article originally appeared on www.FirstBiz.com on Oct 7, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Act now: Arun Jaitley needs to use his lucky streak to push through reforms


Fostering Public Leadership - World Economic Forum - India Economic Summit 2010

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?”
Luck is an essential part of politics and lucky governments tend to do better than plain and simple skilful governments. As ex cricketer turned writer Ed Smith writes in
Luck—A Fresh Look At Fortune “Academic research supports the idea that voters often can’t tell the difference between lucky governments and skilful ones.” In fact, research carried out by Australian economist Andrew Leigh suggests that “it is more important to be a lucky government than an effective government”. Leigh studied nearly 268 elections between 1978 and 1999.
As Smith writes regarding this study “A government’s average rate of re-election is 57 per cent…Even superb economic management, outpacing world growth by 1 percentage point, only raises the Prime Minister or President’s likelihood of re-election from 57 per cent to 60 per cent. An economically competent government gets an electoral boost of 3 per cent; a lucky one gets a leg up of 7 per cent [i.e.]… the government’s re-election rate jumps to a 64 per cent likelihood.”
Hence, if a government has “luck” going for it, it is important that it does not throw it away and takes some decisions that help it over the long term.
Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014. Things were looking difficult on the economic front and a poor monsoon was being predicted.
The fiscal deficit of the Indian government as on May 31, 2014, stood at Rs 2,40,837 crore. This meant that during the first two months of the financial year (April 2014 to March 2015), the fiscal deficit had already reached 45.6% of the annual target. By June 30, 2014, the fiscal deficit for the first three months of the financial year had reached 56.1% of the annual target. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
Typically the income of the government is back loaded, given that its earnings are the highest during the last three months of the financial year. But a large part of the expenditure of the government is more or less spread out through the financial year. Given this, the fiscal deficit typically tends to be high during the first few months of the year.
Nevertheless, even after taking this factor into account, a fiscal deficit of 56.1% of the annual target during the first three months of the year was a very high number. During the last financial year the number had stood at 48.4%. This was largely a reflection of the fiscal mess that the Congress led UPA government had left the country in.
Over and above this, the initial monsoon numbers were not very encouraging. The India Meteorological Department(IMD) in a press release dated July 11, 2014, pointed out that the“rainfall activity was deficient/scanty over the country as a whole” for the period between July 3 and July 9, 2014. This deficiency of rainfall was at 41% of the long period average.” This delay in rainfall had led to a 51% annual decline in the sowing of kharif crops.
These two factors which could have undermined the performance of the new Modi government greatly, have changed for the good in the recent past.
One of the major reasons for a high fiscal deficit has been the fact that oil marketing companies have been incurring huge “under-recoveries” on the sale of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene. The government in turn has had to compensate the OMCs for these “under-recoveries”. This pushed up the government expenditure and hence, the fiscal deficit.
The good news is that oil prices have been falling.
The international crude oil price of Indian Basket of oil as computed by Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) fell to US$ 99.94 per barrel on 19.08.2014. Two months earlier on June 19, the price of the Indian basket of oil had touched $111.94 per barrel.
This fall in oil prices has ensured that
the under-recoveries of the OMCs for the financial year 2014-15 are projected to be Rs 91,665 crore while the figure was Rs 1,39,869 crore in the 2013-14. If this trend continues the government is likely to incur a lower expenditure for compensating the OMCs for their under-recoveries. And this will also have an impact on the fiscal deficit.
The government has also been lucky on the monsoon front. As the IMD said in a release dated August 15, 2014, “For the country as a whole, cumulative rainfall during this year’s monsoon has so far upto 13 August been 18% below the Long Period Average (LPA).” This is way lower than the deficiency in early July. A bad monsoon could have created several economic challenges for the government. Thankfully, the scenario did not turn out to be as bad it was initially expected to be. Hence, it is safe to conclude that the Modi government has indeed been very lucky on the economic front during its first 90 days.
Given this, the government should use this lucky streak to push in some reform on the pricing of petroleum products. With oil prices falling, this would be a good time to decontrol diesel prices. Over and above this , this would be a good time to limit subsidies on kerosene and cooking gas as well.
As has been suggested here earlier, this might be a good time to start raising cooking gas prices by Rs 10 per cylinder every month, in order to eliminate the subsidy on it, over a period of time.
What might further work for the Modi government is the fact that oil prices might continue to fall in the years to come. As Crisil Research points out in a report titled
Falling crude, LNG, coal prices huge positive for India dated August 2014 “Over the next five years, we expect global oil demand to increase by 4-4.5 m
illion barrels per day (mbpd).
However, crude oil supply is expected to increase by 8-10 mbpd. This, we believe, will bring down prices from current levels.”
This should help the government control its fiscal deficit. If the government is able to lower its fiscal deficit, it will have to borrow less and that will eventually lead to lower interest rates. If the government borrows less, there will be more money to lend to others. At lower interest rates consumers are more likely to borrow and spend. This will have a positive impact on economic growth.
The Modi government has luck going for it right now, but this may or may not last. Hence, it is important that it makes the best of it, and pushes in some decisions which will work well for the economy in the long run.

The article originally appeared on www.Firstbiz.com on August 22, 2014 
(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)