Oil price increases of 2004 and 2005

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Oil price in 2003-2005
Oil price in 2003-2005
Average US retail price of regular unleaded gasoline
Average US retail price of regular unleaded gasoline
Oil prices from 1860-1999 in 1999 dollars. Source: [1]
Oil prices from 1860-1999 in 1999 dollars. Source: [1]

The price of light, sweet crude oil on NYMEX was under $25/barrel in September 2003. By August 11, 2005, the price had been above $60/barrel for over a week and a half. A record price of $70.85 per barrel was reached on August 29, 2005.[2] While oil prices are considerably higher than a year ago, they are still roughly 25$ from exceeding the inflation-adjusted "peak of the 1980 shock, when prices were over $90 a barrel in today’s prices" [3].

In the United States gasoline prices reached an all time high during the first week of September 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The average retail price was nearly $3.04 per gallon. The previous high was $1.38 per gallon in March 1981, which would be $3.03 per gallon after adjusted for inflation.[4][5]



High demand is led by the U.S. market, the source of an increasing percentage of world's demand for petroleum. The U.S. economy currently accounts for one-quarter of all demand. New demand is also coming from emerging industry in third world nations, including India and especially China which is developing a western-style car culture and whose manufacturing bases have grown very rapidly in recent years.

Sources of the world-consumption-increase in 2004 compared to 2003 (total increase of 3.4%), according to U.S. Department of Energy Energy Information Administration estimates: [6]

  • China: 38.9%
  • US: 19.4%
  • Asia outside Japan and China: 13.8%
  • Canada: 4%
  • UK: 3.5%
  • combined other non-OECD: 21%

Note: the total percentage exceeds 100 because the overall demand from all other countries decreased during the same period..


There are a number of reasons why oil traders feel that oil supplies might be reduced. One of the most important is growing turbulence in the Middle East, the world's largest oil producing region. The war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and questions about Saudi Arabia's internal stability all could in the future lead to a dramatic fall in the supply of oil. Outside the Middle East other oil producers have worried investors such as the strikes political problems in Venezuela and potential instability in West Africa.

In late August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina crippled the supply-flow from off-shore rigs in the Gulf Coast, the largest source of oil for the domestic U.S. market. Short-term shutdowns because of power outages knocked out two major on-shore pipelines, and at least 10% of the nation's refining capacity was not operating in the wake of the storm. Gas prices in the region, normally 70 cents below the national average, were at $3.12 on August 30.[7]

World supply (specification) came in at 83 million barrels a day during 2004 in department of energy EIA calculations ([8]). This rate of increase is faster than that of any other date in the past. Despite this there is increasing discussion of peak oil and the possibility that the future may see a reduced supply of oil. Even if oil supplies themselves are not reduced, some experts feel the easily accessible sources of light sweet crude are almost exhausted and in future the world will depend on more expensive sources of oil.

The short term price of oil is partially controlled by the OPEC cartel and the oligopoly of major oil companies. One other important cause is the United States dollar's slump against the Euro. Since oil is traded in dollars, the price must increase for OPEC to maintain buying power in Europe.


Some people and news agencies argue that labor strikes, hurricane threats to oil platforms, fires and terrorist threats at refineries, and other general problems are responsible for the higher gas prices. Critics argue that these problems periodically push price higher, but that they are not fundamental or long term enough to cause the large jump in gas price.

Others believe that the price of oil is almost entirely speculative, and that the increase in price is due to oil speculation extending into the long term. These people argue that speculators foresee increasing demand, decreasing supply, or both, leading to a long term increase in the price of oil. If these speculators are wrong, current prices may actually be a price bubble, and the price could thus collapse. A July 14, 2005 Morgan Stanley report[9] suggests that opinions of the oil market could burst just like a bubble if indications of declining Asian demand continue.

Spring & Summer 2005 increase

Overnight gas price hike shown at a Chicago area BP-Amoco station (background). The Shell station (foreground) has not yet posted the 12 cent price hike.
Overnight gas price hike shown at a Chicago area BP-Amoco station (background). The Shell station (foreground) has not yet posted the 12 cent price hike.

After retreating for several months during the winter of 2004/2005, prices rose to new highs in March 2005. The price of light, sweet crude oil on NYMEX has been above $50/barrel since March 5, 2005. On March 16, 2005, the price surpassed the October 2004 high of $55.17 to close at $56.46. In April 2005 the price began to fall, reaching $53.32 on April 9. It then reversed course and headed to an all time high of $58.28, driven mainly by lingering concerns of a prolonged weak dollar. In June 2005 crude oil prices surged to record highs eventually breaking the psychological barrier of $60.

Saudi Arabian King Fahd's death on August 1, 2005, meant a new regime that may be less amicable to U.S. influence. During mid-August, with a string of refinery snags (fires/other deterrents to oil refining), shrinking gasoline inventories, and a growing thirst for oil by American consumers, New York Mercantile Exchange traded crude oil futures surged past the $66 mark and briefly touched $67/barrel. Over the course of three weeks leading up to August 10, crude oil prices had risen by 13%.

While the street price of gasoline usually corresponds to the price of crude oil, refinery capacity can become the governing factor, particularly during periods of high demand. In addition, there are different grades of oil and each refinery is typically configured to process a narrow range of grades. As a result, shortage of a particular grade of oil can keep street prices high, even when overall supply exceeds demand.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina had a major impact on oil and gas prices, especially within the United States. The Gulf Coast is home to a major portion of America's refining capacity. The port of Louisiana is one of its most important inlet for oil imports, and the gulf itself is a major oil producer. Port Fourchon has also suffered long term damage. Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has not. [10]

Gas prices soared after the closing down of the major pipelines connecting the gas of the Louisiana region to the entire East Coast. In Stockbridge, Georgia, regular gas prices came to $5.87 at a BP station. Shortages were feared or experienced in several states including Tennessee [11], Alabama [12], and South Carolina. [13] Many of these were blamed on panic buying. Airports began to report shortages in aviation fuel on 2 September.[14] A shortage could lead to a decrease in food production.[15] Higher prices for heating oil and natural gas were expected as the winter heating season set in.[16]

On 5:10 p.m. EDT, on 31 August, President Bush announced the Energy Department was approving loans from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and that EPA announced nationwide waver on fuel blends. Bush stated, "This storm has disrupted the ability to make gasoline and deliver gasoline," and "This is going to be a difficult road."[17] Many people have observed however that stores of crude oil do little to address inadequate refinery and distribution capacity.

In order to stabilize world energy supplies, the International Energy Agency offered to sell two million barrels of crude oil and other refined products from national supplies. These supplies would begin entering the US markets within two weeks of 2 September. [18] [19] The press release from the IEA states, "... the implications for the oil market are global."[20]


There is controversy regarding the potential effects of oil-price shocks. Some see these increases in the price of oil leading to a recession comparable to those that followed the 1973 and 1979 energy crises or a potentially worse situation such as a global oil crash. Most economists see this as unlikely, partly because all developed countries have high fuel taxes that decrease as oil prices increase and can be eliminated in the event of a dramatic price spike. Nevertheless, that loss of revenue would put a strain on government balance sheets. The American Strategic Petroleum Reserve could on its own supply current U.S. demand for about a month in the event of an emergency, unless it is also destroyed in the emergency. This could well be the case if a major storm were to hit the gulf, where the reserve is located. While total consumption has increased [21], the western economies are less reliant on oil than they were twenty-five years ago, due to substantial growths in productivity. In the United States, for instance, each $1000 dollars in GDP required 2.4 barrels of oil in 1973 when adjusted for inflation this number had fallen to 1.15 by 2001. But oil's historically high ratio of Energy Returned on Energy Invested continues a significant decline. Despite the rapid increase in the price of oil, neither the stock markets nor the growth of the global economy have been noticeably affected. Inflation has increased. In the United States, the Consumer Price Index rose by 0.6% compared to 0.2% for September. This was driven by a 4.2% increase in energy costs. As a result during this period the Federal Reserve has rapidly been increasing interest rates to curb inflation.

Economists say that the substitution effect will spur demand for alternate energy sources, such as coal or liquified natural gas. For example, China and India are currently heavily investing in natural gas facilities. Nigeria is working on burning natural gas to produce electricity instead of simply flaring the gas. Outside the US, more than 50% of oil is consumed for stationary, non-transportation purposes such as electricity production where it is relatively easy to substitute natual gas for oil.

The increased price of oil also makes previously impractical sources of oil attractive to businesses. The most prominent example of this are the massive reserves of the Canadian tar sands. They are a far less cost efficient source of oil than crude, but at 60 dollars a barrel, the tar have recently become very attractive to businesses. Recent months have seen billions of dollars invested in the oil sands.

The increased price of oil might also encourage greater fuel efficiency. Recent years have seen a move towards more fuel-thirsty sport utility vehicles in the United States and Canada, and this may be stopped by the high price of gas. The September 2005 sales data for all the vehicles vendor indicated SUV sales dropped while small cars sales increased compared with 2004 sales. There is also an ever increasing market for hybrid vehicles since they are more fuel efficient; since the 1973 energy crisis, the front-wheel drive passenger car has replaced rear-wheel drive as the preferred layout for energy efficient cars. There is an increasing demand of crossover sport utilities which are more fuel efficient - especially for those based on passenger car platforms.

USA Stock markets

Three-year performance of the oil industry...
Three-year performance of the oil industry...
...and one-month performance.
...and one-month performance.

The increase in oil prices over two years was mirrored by an increase in stock values in the energy sector. The value of the stock in companies such as Apache[22] and Conoco-Phillips [23] rose sharply during this period. These prices increased more rapidly toward the end of August, particularly after Hurricane Katrina. [24]

Wal-Mart shares continued their decrease in value that began with the increase in the oil prices. Over two years, stock in Wal-Mart dropped in value by 25% from $60 per share to under $45 per share. [25] Earlier in August, Wal-Mart announced that higher than expected oil prices cut into the corporation's profits for the 2nd quarter of 2005. Since oil prices after the end of the 2nd quarter continued to rise, 3rd quarter profits from Wal-Mart are expected to be small. Because Wal-Mart's distribution system relies on the customer to drive to a large discount big-box store, increases in the price of fuel might discourage some customers from making the trip as often. Wal-Mart, like all retailers, will also face higher shipping costs to get goods from the factory to the stores. This will likely cause inflationary pressures.

Asia Pacific Region (excludes Australasia)

The Pacific rim had been experiencing this crisis on an ongoing basis prior to Hurricane Katrina.

  • In the Philippines, the oil crisis caused its public to call for immediate government assistance. [26] New sources of energy were sought to deal with the crisis.[27]
  • A senior minister of Singapore expressed concern at the oil crisis in Indonesia.[28]
  • The Indonesian president had instituted subsidies to control the price of gasoline.[29]

South Asia

In India, farmers who are already under considerable duress because of IMF and World Bank imposed deregulations which have left many heavily indebted, will suffer extra burden because of higher fertilizer prices. A ongoing suicide epidemic in the South Asian agricultural heartland is therefore bound to grow.

Sub-Saharan Africa

High oil prices are hurting many countries in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Tanzania. High oil prices have created an oil supply instability, per barrel price instability or both. In some cases this has led to fuel rationing being enacted.

  • Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa lack the foreign exchange reserves (ie, Dollars) to purchase enough oil products at the ever increasingly higher prices. These nations must resort to limiting imports or rationing their existing supplies.

Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, came under increasing scrutiny as he began selling oil at lower-than-market prices to island nations in the Caribbean. [30]

  • At the same time, Cuba has experienced electricity shortages.[31]

Gulf States & Eurasian Arab-Islamic Regions

Iran came under increasing pressure from the European Union in regards to their program to build nuclear power plants.[32]

See also

External links and sources

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