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OPEC Debate: To Cut Or Not To Cut

发布者: chrislau2001 | 发布时间: 2008-9-9 14:07| 查看数: 1303| 评论数: 1|

Meeting for the first time since March, OPEC ministers on Tuesday face a quandary: With the world economy still on the ropes, do they really want to be seen slashing oil production in an effort to keep prices above $100 a barrel?

To cut or not to cut -- and if so, when -- will dominate debate when the cartel's 13 ministers huddle in Vienna. After pleading helplessness for months as crude prices soared, officials from Venezuela, Iran and Libya say they would like the group to start trimming production to halt the steep fall in prices since late July. Big producers like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Nigeria have been either mute or in favor of maintaining the status quo.

Few doubt that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has the clout to prop prices up. While often feeble when called upon to boost supplies, the group has largely succeeded over the past decade in protecting its interests when prices slide. The question is whether it would be wise to act now, with the U.S. and some European nations still hovering near recession.

As always, the spotlight falls on Saudi Arabia, OPEC's dominant member and the world's single largest oil exporter. Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi and his boss, King Abdullah, wrung their hands for months as prices soared to records and criticism poured down from Western capitals that they weren't doing enough to ease the pain.

But their decision in June to ramp up production by an additional 250,000 barrels a day may have helped drive prices down from an all-time high of $147 a barrel in mid-July. Crude prices are now off nearly 30% from that peak, closing last week at $106.83 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. But crude is still up 11% from the start of the year and is about 50% higher than a year ago.

The king has since said he would like to see prices fall below $100 a barrel, while others suggest that the kingdom wouldn't object if crude edged into the mid-$80s range -- about where it was for the earlier part of this year. Saudi officials declined to talk about their thinking ahead of the Vienna summit.

Others within OPEC, though, will surely gripe if prices tumble that far. Traditional price hawks Iran and Venezuela have been vocal in saying they want the cartel to begin slashing production now, arguing that the world is oversupplied and that the once-outlandish price of $100 a barrel should become the new benchmark. Plummeting prices could cause distress within months in Venezuela and Iran, whose leaders rely heavily on windfall oil profits to maintain their political positions.

But Saudi Arabia and most of its Persian Gulf allies appear reluctant to do anything rash.

Demand for oil this year is off sharply in the U.S. and Europe. There are signs steep demand growth may be slowing in China. Yet the thirst for fuel continues to grow at a healthy clip elsewhere, particularly within the big oil producers themselves. Energy demand is up sharply in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, meaning that more oil stays at home and less enters the export market.

Just as Saudi Arabia has quietly added barrels this summer, most analysts expect it will quietly begin lowering its output in the coming months. The kingdom pumped around 9.6 million barrels a day in July but has already begun to trim back. OPEC as a whole supplies around 40% of the 86.5 million barrels a day the world now consumes.

With the lion's share of the world's spare pumping capacity, Saudi Arabia has led every substantial shift in production within OPEC over the past decade, whether by putting extra barrels on the market or taking them off. Between November 2006 and January 2007, OPEC slashed its output by more than 1.5 million barrels a day and kept a clamp on production for nearly a year. The Saudis accounted for more than half of that cut.

OPEC then began to add extra barrels in the fall of 2007, seeing that supplies were tight and prices were beginning to soar. By this July the cartel had put on an extra 2.2 million barrels a day -- nearly half of it, again, from Saudi Arabia.

The cartel has moved to cut its formal quotas 12 times in the past 15 years, according to research by Adam Sieminski at Deutsche Bank. OPEC succeeded in 80% of those cuts to either stabilize prices or push them up within three months, Mr. Sieminski found. Its last round of cuts, in early 2007, set the stage for the historic price surge seen over the last year.

That doesn't mean OPEC states don't have their bouts of bickering and failure to abide by production cuts over time -- as members try to protect oil revenue. This source of contention could become more pronounced today because a number of OPEC states, like Venezuela and Iran, need higher oil prices to compensate for increased financial strains, like high inflation.

Talk of cutting OPEC output will revive the long-running debate over whether there should be an optimal price that the group will seek to defend. Mr. Naimi said earlier this year that the $65 or so it costs to produce a barrel of oil from the Canadian tar sands had become the new price floor within the industry. Others argue that the soaring expense of developing new offshore fields means that oil will never again linger below $70 a barrel.

But there are risks for OPEC pursuing such a high oil-price policy. Prices above $100 a barrel keeps consumers firmly on the prowl for ways to cut oil consumption. It also helps pay for the pursuit of alternative energy sources, like crop-based biofuels and hard-to-extract heavy oil in places like Canada, that compete head-to-head with OPEC oil.

Consumers in wealthy nations are employing a variety of tools to escape high oil prices, from abandoning gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles in the U.S. to using more public transport in Japan, and the impact keeps adding up.

Crude demand in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations like the U.S. -- which account for 56% of total consumption globally -- is on course to fall a fourth straight year in 2008.

'The damage of today's high oil price is to demand. Consumers and governments are looking for solutions wherever they can and the more some OPEC states talk about wanting oil above $100, the more consumers search,' said Leo Drollas, chief economist at the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies.

Neil King Jr. / Spencer Swartz

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chrislau2001 发表于 2008-9-9 14:08:04

减产问题令欧佩克左右为难

石油输出国组织(OPEC, 简称:欧佩克)的石油部长们将于周二举行3月份以来的首次会议,他们将面临着左右为难的处境:由于全球经济依然低迷,欧佩克是否真的希望削减石油产量以将油价维持在每桶100美元以上?

减产还是不减产?如果减产,应从何时开始?这些问题将是欧佩克此次石油部长会议期间讨论的焦点。在几个月前油价大幅上涨时,委内瑞拉、伊朗和利比亚的官员一直表示对此无能为力,但现在他们希望欧佩克开始削减产量,以遏制7月末以来油价的暴跌。沙特、伊拉克和尼日利亚等主要产油国要么保持沉默,要么支持维持现状。

几乎无人怀疑欧佩克有能力推高油价。尽管在提高供应量方面常常表现的软弱无力,但过去10年中当油价下跌时,欧佩克却基本上成功地保护了其利益。问题是,鉴于美国和部分欧洲国家仍徘徊在衰退的边缘,现在采取行动是否明智。

同以往一样,最受关注的仍是欧佩克最主要的成员、全球最大的石油出口国沙特的动向。由于油价创出新高和西方国家纷纷批评沙特并未尽力降低油价,几个月来沙特石油大臣纳伊米(Ali Naimi)和阿卜杜拉国王(King Abdullah)一直深感不安。

但他们6月份做出的将日产量再提高25万桶的决定可能促使了油价在7月中旬从每桶147美元的历史高点回落。原油价格目前已从高点回落了近30%,纽约商交所上周收于每桶106.83美元。但油价仍比年初时高出了11%,比一年前高出了约50%。

此后阿卜杜拉国王曾表示,他愿意看到油价跌至每桶100美元以下,而其他人则认为,沙特不会反对油价跌至85美元左右,即今年初时的价格。沙特官员拒绝谈论他们对此次维也纳峰会的想法。

不过,如果油价跌到这个水平,欧佩克的其他成员国显然会大为不满。传统的油价鹰派伊朗和委内瑞拉一直大声疾呼,他们希望欧佩克现在就削减产量,称全球已经供应过剩,曾经遥不可及的100美元应该成为新的基准。油价暴跌可能导致委内瑞拉和伊朗国内的不满,这些国家的领导人主要依靠石油的暴利维持他们的政治地位。

但沙特和多数波斯湾国家似乎并不愿草率行事。

今年欧美对石油的需求大幅下降。有迹象显示中国的巨大需求增幅也有望出现回落。不过全球其他地区对石油的需求仍会继续保持正常的增长水平,尤其是产油大国本身。沙特、伊朗、阿联酋和俄罗斯的能源需求都在大幅增加,意味着将有更多的石油留在国内,进入出口市场的石油数量将会减少。

正像沙特今年夏季暗中增加石油产量那样,大多数分析师预计沙特会在今后几个月开始暗中降低产量。7月份时沙特的日产量约为960万桶,但已经开始削减产量。全球目前每天消费原油8,650万桶,欧佩克的供应量约占其中的40%。

由于占据了全球的大部分闲置产能,沙特过去10年里在欧佩克每次的产量大幅调整中都发挥了主导作用,无论是额外增产还是减产。在2006年11月至2007年1月之间,欧佩克将日产量削减150多万桶,并维持了近一年的时间。沙特的减产数量占到了此次减产总量的一半以上。

在2007年秋季,由于看到供应吃紧,价格开始上涨,欧佩克开始增加产量。到今年7月时,欧佩克的日产量增加了220万桶,其中近一半又是来自沙特。

根据德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)亚当•谢明斯基(Adam Sieminski)的研究,过去15年里欧佩克12次下调产量配额。他说,其中有80%的减产在3个月内成功地稳定或是推高了油价。2007年初的最后一次减产为去年油价历史性地飙升奠定了基础。

这并不意味着欧佩克国家在遵守限产规定时没有过争吵或是失败,成员国都希望保护它们的石油收入。如今这种争论可能会更加激烈,因为委内瑞拉和伊朗等许多欧佩克成员国都需要油价维持在高位,以弥补通胀加剧因素等带来的财政紧张。

欧佩克减产的讨论还将重新引发长期以来的争论,即欧佩克是否应有一个努力捍卫的理想价格。纳伊米今年早些时候表示,加拿大油砂每桶65美元左右的成本开发价已成为石油业中新的价格基础。也有人认为,海上新油田开发费用的飙升意味着油价不会再降至每桶70美元之下。

但欧佩克坚持高油价的政策也存在风险。油价高于每桶100美元会让消费者坚定地寻找削减石油消费的途径,也有助于增加在替代能源开发方面的投入,如来自玉米的生物燃料和同欧佩克发生正面交锋的加拿大等国难以提炼的重油等。

富裕国家的消费者正在采取各种措施摆脱高油价的桎梏,如美国消费者纷纷放弃高耗油的运动型多用途车,日本则更多地使用公共交通工具等。这种影响还在进一步增大。

美国等经济合作与发展组织(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)成员国的原油需求2008年很可能连续第四年下降。该组织约占全球原油总消耗量的56%。

伦敦全球能源研究中心(Centre for Global Energy Studies)首席经济学家利奥•德罗拉斯(Leo Drollas)说,当前油价居高不下损害的将是需求。消费者和政府正在寻找其他的解决方案。欧佩克国家越希望将油价维持在每桶100美元之上,消费者就越会寻找其他方案。

Neil King Jr. / Spencer Swartz
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