Lex 2010-03-18

Media outlets concerned with reporting not only the what and when but also the why of market gyrations sometimes miss the forest for the trees. So the 160 journalists in Vienna covering the 156th meeting of Opec, the oil cartel, dutifully linked yesterday’s rise in oil prices to the group’s decision to keep quotas flat.

Though it was not that long ago that offhand comments from an Opec delegate between bites of sachertorte were enough to send traders scrambling, the only words that mattered this week were the Fed’s “extended period” in the US. Rumblings from Beijing about cooling growth might have had the opposite effect. Memories of supply shocks in the 1970s give Opec too much credit for a market now driven by oil’s status as a store of value and the impact of marginal demand from developing countries.

After spare capacity shrivelled and prices surged from 2005 to 2008, oil ministers acknowledged their powerlessness to stem price rises. Now, producing 2m barrels a day over its 26.8m barrel quota, Opec is nearly as toothless. Between cheating by some members and struggles to meet quotas by others, only pragmatic Saudi Arabia is a true swing producer. Opec is also less fearsome as developed countries generate twice as much output from each barrel of crude as in the 1970s.

Another reason why Opec has lost clout are technological developments that price shocks have helped spur. Unconventional sources such as oil sands or biofuels now provide a safety valve for the market if oil companies believe prices will be sustained above $65 a barrel. Go a bit higher and other technologies such as gas or coal-to-liquids become feasible. Sitting on three-quarters of conventional reserves, Opec today resembles the elderly denizens of a posh gentleman’s club – rich but largely irrelevant.

英国《金融时报》 Lex专栏 2010-03-18

忙着报道市场波动幅度、时间以及原因的媒体,有时会因这些细节而忽视更重要的东西。所以,在维也纳报道石油卡特尔组织欧佩克(Opec) 156届部长级会议的160名记者,规矩地将昨日油价的上涨,与该集团维持原油日产配额不变的决定联系了起来。

尽管就在不久之前,该组织一名代表在吃沙哈蛋糕时的随意言论,就足以让交易员手忙脚乱,但本周唯一紧要的言论,是美联储(Fed)在“很长一段时间内”维持利率不变的表态。有关北京将为经济增长降温的传言,可能产生了相反的作用。上世纪70年代“供应冲击”(supply shock)的记忆在石油市场赋予了欧佩克过多的影响力。如今,石油作为价值储藏手段的身份,以及发展中国家边际需求的影响,才是该市场的推动因素。