How to Cut the Price of Oil

Article excerpt

Can the world do anything - fast - to stop the surge in oil prices?

A newly announced boost in oil production by Saudi Arabia is a start.

And recent steps by several Asian nations to cut subsidies for oil consumption should reduce global petroleum demand.

No guarantees, but such actions may ease the price pressures that pushed oil to a record $139 a barrel earlier this month. Energy costs have become a driving force of inflation besetting US and global consumers.

Policymakers don't have a magic wand to wave. The long-term challenge will remain: Demand for energy keeps rising even as it grows harder to boost oil production.

But energy experts cite a range of tactics that could provide some relief. Even efforts that don't bring a rapid change in supply or demand might have an immediate effect on market psychology.

Among the options:

* Nudge consumers toward conservation.

* Encourage more oil production.

* Ramp up investment in alternative energy sources.

* Discourage speculative investing in oil markets.

* Phase out subsidies for oil consumption.

"There's a lot of low-hanging fruit out there," involving boosting supplies or curbing demand, says John Kilduff, energy analyst at MF Global in New York. "Longer-term plans might get rewarded here in the marketplace today."

Much of this past year's run-up in oil has to do with prospects for supply and demand looking years into the future, he explains. It's hard to sort out how much of that can be classified as a speculative "bubble" and how much is a rational sobering of the outlook for supply and demand.

But in either case, many analysts say that policy changes can have an impact on current market behavior.

The oil issue topped the list of concerns as finance ministers for the Group of Eight industrialized nations met in Osaka, Japan.

"Elevated commodity prices, especially of oil and food, pose a serious challenge to stable growth worldwide," they said in a joint statement Saturday. This also creates particular challenges for the world's "most vulnerable" people, they said, and for global inflation rates.

In the US, consumer prices surged 0.6 percent in May alone, according to a government report Friday. Oil accounted for most of the surge.

Crude oil prices have doubled in the past year, with most of that rise occurring in the past five months.

Oil prices closed at about $135 per barrel Friday, down a bit because of news reports that Saudi Arabia was planning to expand production. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon detailed those plans on Sunday after meeting with Saudi leaders. He said Saudi Arabia will raise output by 200,000 barrels per day, or about 2 percent.

That would be a welcome move in a world where supply and demand appear increasingly to be on a fine edge.

The market is so tight that some analysts see no quick fixes.

What else can be done?

Although they may not be politically easy, multiple choices exist:

A clampdown on money supply. …