The Geopolitical Impact of Cheap Oil

If the price of oil, which has fallen more than 25% in the past five months, remains at its current level, it will have important implications for many countries around the world, some good and some bad. If it falls further, as seems likely, the geopolitical consequences could be dramatic.

CAMBRIDGE – The price of oil has fallen more than 25% in the past five months, to less than $80 a barrel. If the price remains at this level, it will have important implications – some good, some bad – for many countries around the world. If it falls further, as seems likely, the geopolitical consequences on some oil-producing countries could be dramatic.

The price of oil at any time depends on market participants’ expectations about future supply and demand. The role of expectations makes the oil market very different from most others. In the market for fresh vegetables, for example, prices must balance the supply and demand for the current harvest. By contrast, oil producers and others in the industry can keep supply off the market if they think that its price will rise later, or they can put extra supply on the market if they think the price will fall.

Oil companies around the world keep supply off the market by reducing the amount of oil that they take out of the ground. Oil producers can also restrict supply by holding oil inventory in tankers at sea or in other storage facilities. Conversely, producers can put more oil on the market by increasing production or by running down their inventories.

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