Low for Longer? Why the Global Oil Market in 2014 Is Not Like 1986

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In the second half of 2014, oil prices experienced a sharp decline, falling more than 50 per cent between June 2014 and January 2015. A cursory glance at this oil price crash suggests similarities to developments in 1986, when the price of oil declined by more than 50 per cent, initiating an episode of relatively low oil prices that lasted for more than a decade. This analytical note compares the 1986 price decline with the current episode more closely, and its key findings suggest important differences. While oil demand had been falling in the beginning of the 1980s, demand growth currently is being sustained by emerging economies and is projected to be more stable. Also, spare production capacity is significantly smaller today. Due to higher decline rates and shorter investment cycles of unconventional production, current supply is expected to adjust faster to low prices and reductions in investment spending. As long as oil demand from emerging economies remains robust, increases in production will require additional investment in high-cost production. The cost of this incremental production points to higher prices in the medium term than were observed in 2015, although the potential size of a price increase is limited because of ongoing cost-cutting initiatives and technological advances. Due to the fundamental changes in the oil market, it is unlikely that a decade of low oil prices—similar to the experience following the 1986 oil price crash—will repeat itself.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.34989/san-2016-11