Derrotar a los barones del petróleo

WASHINGTON, DC – En los dieciocho últimos meses, los precios del petróleo se han más que duplicado, lo que ha infligido costos enormes a la economía mundial. Una fuerte demanda mundial, debida a las economías en ascenso, como China, ha contribuido en parte, indudablemente, al aumento de los precios, pero la escala de esa brusca subida supera los factores de la oferta y la demanda, lo que indica que el papel desempeñado por la especulación… y subraya la necesidad de adoptar medidas normativas para limpiar el mercado del petróleo.

La mayoría de los economistas rechazan la idea de que la especulación sea la causante del aumento de los precios, lo que refleja su fe en los mercados. Según sostienen, si la especulación fuera de verdad la causa, debería haber aumentado las existencias de petróleo, porque unos precios mayores reducirían el consumo y obligarían a los especuladores a acumular petróleo. El hecho de que no hayan aumentado las existencias de petróleo exonera a los especuladores petroleros.

Pero el panorama es mucho más complicado, porque la demanda de petróleo es extraordinariamente poco sensible a los precios. A corto plazo, resulta técnicamente difícil ajustar el consumo. Por ejemplo, la eficiencia en materia de combustible de todos los automóviles y camiones es fija y la mayoría de los viajes no son discrecionales. Aunque unos precios mayores de los billetes de las compañías aéreas puede reducir las compras, dichas compañías sólo reducen el consumo de petróleo cuando cancelan vuelos, lo que ilustra un detalle fundamental: a corto plazo, la reducción de la actividad económica es la forma principal de disminuir la demanda de petróleo. Así, pues, a falta de una recesión, la demanda ha permanecido en gran medida inalterada a lo largo del año pasado.

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