FlyTitle: Oil prices

No one wins from the oil-price war

石油价格战没有赢家

SAUDI ARABIA and Russia are used to fighting their enemies via proxies. But the oil-price war that has broken out between them is head-on and has swiftly escalated. It started when Russia refused to slash production during a meeting with the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna on March 6th. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, hit back with discounts to buyers and a promise to pump more crude. Shortly thereafter it said it would provide customers with 12.3m barrels a day (b/d) in April, about 25% more than it supplied last month—and a level it has never before attained. Russia said it could raise output, too, adding up to 500,000 b/d to its 11.2m b/d. The price of Brent crude plunged by 24%, to $34 a barrel, on March 9th—its steepest one-day drop in nearly 30 years.

沙特阿拉伯和俄罗斯惯于通过代理人与敌人对抗。但在两国间爆发的这场石油价格战中,双方正面交锋,且战事迅速升级。导火线是俄罗斯3月6日与欧佩克在维也纳会晤时拒绝削减产量。欧佩克实际上的领导国沙特做出反击,向买家提供折扣,并承诺加大原油产量。此后不久,沙特表示将在4月为客户供应每日1230万桶原油,比2月时增加约25%,是它从未达到过的产量水平。俄罗斯表示自己也可能增产,在目前每日1120万桶的基础上增加最多50万桶。3月9日,布伦特原油价格暴跌24%至每桶34美元,创下近30年来的最大单日跌幅。

Amid turmoil in global markets unleashed by the plummeting oil price, and panic about its impact on the global economy, Saudi Arabia upped the ante again on March 11th, ordering Saudi Aramco, its state-owned oil giant, to raise national production capacity by a further 1m b/d. Is the kingdom merely strengthening its bargaining position to force Russia back to the table? Or is it waging a fierce price war to crowd out rivals that will instead ensure what analysts at Bernstein, an investment firm, call “mutually assured destruction”? The answer may determine how long the disruption will last.

油价暴跌引发了全球市场骚动,也让人们恐慌它可能给全球经济造成冲击。结果沙特于11日再次加码,命令国有石油巨头沙特阿美(Saudi Aramco)提升全国产能,每日再增产100万桶。沙特是在加强自己的谈判筹码,好迫使俄罗斯重返谈判桌吗?还是要发动残酷的价格战把对手排挤出局,以求(用投资公司盛博的分析师的话说)“同归于尽”?答案可能决定了这轮冲击将持续多久。

The fallout caps a seismic decade for oilmen. Power has shifted between Saudi Arabia, Russia and America (see chart). In 2014 Saudi Arabia sought to check America’s ascendant shale industry by flooding the market with oil. The result was cataclysmic for all producers. Two years later OPEC restored its grip on output by forging an alliance with Russia and others.

此番影响超过了石油业这十年来的种种震荡。权力一直在沙特、俄罗斯和美国之间流转(见图表)。2014年,沙特将大量石油推向市场,企图遏制美国蒸蒸日上的页岩油产业。其结果对所有产油国来说都是灾难性的。两年后,欧佩克与俄罗斯等国结盟,重新开始限产。

经济学人双语版-焦土战 Scorched earth

In recent years, though, Russia has flouted the terms of its deals with OPEC. Its oil companies, led by Rosneft, have chafed at market share lost to American frackers. As troubling for Russia, America has become less shy about leaning on foreigners. In December it announced sanctions to delay Nord Stream 2, a Russian gas pipeline to Europe. In February America imposed sanctions to punish Rosneft for its dealings with Venezuela.

但最近几年,俄罗斯一直无视与欧佩克达成的协议条款。以俄罗斯石油公司(Rosneft,以下简称俄石油)为首的俄石油企业对市场份额流失给了美国页岩油公司感到恼火。同样困扰俄罗斯的是,美国更不避讳向外国施压了。去年12月,美国宣布实施制裁,阻挠俄罗斯通往欧洲的天然气管道项目“北溪二号”(Nord Stream 2)。今年2月,美国又因俄石油与委内瑞拉做交易而对其实施制裁。

Russia’s partnership with OPEC has won it new influence in the Middle East, while Saudi Arabia has borne most of the burden of production cuts. The Saudis are getting tired of the role of swing producer. That position has become all the more invidious since January, when the outbreak of covid-19 in China, the world’s biggest oil importer, put downward pressure on prices.

与欧佩克的伙伴关系让俄罗斯在中东赢得了新的影响力,沙特却承担了大部分的减产负担。沙特已逐渐厌倦扮演产量调节者的角色。今年1月,全球最大的石油进口国中国爆发新冠疫情,给油价带来下行压力,让沙特更是怨恨这一角色。

The Saudi decision to open the spigots is nevertheless extremely rash. With the coronavirus raging, global appetite for oil may decline in 2020 for only the third time in more than 30 years. Increasing supply at a time of falling demand may send the price of Brent crude below $30 in the second quarter, estimates Citi, a bank.

但沙特放开生产的决定实在轻率。随着新冠病毒肆虐,2020年全球石油需求可能下降,这将是30多年以来的仅仅第三次。花旗银行估计,在需求下降时增加供应可能会令布伦特原油价格在第二季度跌破30美元。

The pain may be most acute for smaller, unstable countries dependent on oil revenue, such as Nigeria. Iraq’s government is already teetering—a collapsing oil price may topple it. The movement of forward contracts on Gulf currencies pegged to the dollar, such as Oman’s rial, suggest incipient concerns about the ability to sustain the pegs if dollar revenues from oil remain depressed for a long time.

像尼日利亚这种依赖石油收入且局势不稳的小国感受到的痛苦可能最为剧烈。伊拉克政府本就摇摇欲坠,油价崩溃可能会让它倒台。像阿曼的里亚尔这种与美元挂钩的海湾地区货币的远期合约走势表明,人们已经开始担心,假如出口石油的美元收入长期处于低迷状态,它们是否还能维持与美元的挂钩。

America, too, will be hit hard. Cheap oil used to be a boon to America’s economy. That is no longer the case. In a viral outbreak, savings on petrol are unlikely to translate into more spending on other things, especially ones that involve crowds. Even if it did, any boost to the economy from consumers would be outweighed by damage to shale states such as Texas and North Dakota. Breakeven prices—those oil producers need to turn a profit—in America’s shale basins range from $23 to $75 a barrel, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve. Production cuts and lay-offs are likely.

美国也将受到重创。廉价石油曾经是美国经济的福音,但那已是过去式。爆发疫情时,人们在汽油上省下的钱不太可能转化为其他方面的支出,尤其是那些人群聚集型消费活动。即使可以转化,消费对经济的任何提振作用也会被德克萨斯州和北达科他州等页岩油产地的损失所抵销。达拉斯联储的数据显示,美国页岩盆地的保本油价(而那些石油生产商需要盈利)在每桶23美元至75美元之间。未来很可能会出现减产和裁员。

Making matters worse, shale firms were suffering even before the latest sell-off, as investors questioned their capacity for sustained profits. Capital markets have all but closed to the industry. It will not collapse; many shale firms are hedged against falling prices this year. Those on their knees may well be taken over by bigger competitors. Analysts say larger rivals such as ExxonMobil have the balance-sheets to cope with cheap oil.

更糟糕的是,由于页岩油公司的投资者质疑其能否持续盈利,它们在最近的抛售潮之前就已经在承压。资本市场几乎对这个行业关上了大门。页岩油产业不会崩溃,许多页岩油公司都对今年的油价下跌做了对冲。那些被逼到了悬崖边缘的页岩油公司很可能会被更大的竞争对手收购。分析人士表示,埃克森美孚等较大的对手的财务实力能够抗衡低油价的冲击。

Russia may fail in its attempt to kill off America’s shale industry. Moreover, weak oil prices will hurt its economy. But unlike Saudi Arabia, whose currency is pegged to the dollar, the rouble floats. When oil prices fall, the currency does, too, lowering production costs. On March 10th Russia’s finance ministry said that the country had enough foreign-currency reserves to withstand a decade of prices hovering between $25 and $30. It seems in no hurry to go back to negotiations with OPEC.

俄罗斯打垮美国页岩油产业的尝试可能会失败。而且,油价疲软也会损害俄罗斯经济。但不同于和美元挂钩的沙特货币,俄罗斯卢布是自由浮动的。油价下跌时,卢布汇率也会下跌,令生产成本下降。3月10日,俄罗斯财政部表示,俄罗斯拥有足够的外汇储备,可承受油价在25美元至30美元之间波动十年。俄罗斯似乎不急于重回与欧佩克的谈判桌。

With some of the world’s cheapest oil, Saudi Arabia may be able to pile more pressure on the Russians. Aramco has more than 50 years of reserves, and costs per barrel of less than $9, according to Rystad Energy, a data firm, compared with $15 for Russia. Still, Saudi Arabia may struggle to maintain production—even 12.3m b/d will require tapping its vast inventories.

沙特拥有一些全球开采成本最低的石油储量,也许能对俄罗斯施加更大压力。数据公司雷斯塔能源(Rystad Energy)的信息显示,沙特阿美有超过50年的储量,每桶成本不到9美元,而俄罗斯要15美元。尽管如此,沙特可能难以维持产量,即使日产1230万桶也需要动用其庞大的储备。

Moreover, the kingdom’s budget requires an oil price of more than $80, estimates the IMF. Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckons that if it increases output and oil prices recover, its finances will weather temporary pain. But if the virus persists and demand keeps plunging, the damage may be more lasting. It is a price war that no one looks likely to win. ■

此外,据国际货币基金组织估计,沙特的财政预算需要油价高于80美元。高盛认为,如果沙特增产而油价回升,沙特的财政将能经受住短暂的痛楚。但假如疫情持续且石油需求继续下降,损害可能会更持久。这场价格战似乎不会有赢家。