Crude oil futures spiked more than 8 percent after delegates from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ 14 member states agreed at a Wednesday meeting in Vienna on a higher-than-expected production cut of 1.2 million barrels per day to 32.5 million, a nearly 4 percent decrease from current output.
Analysts who spoke with International Business Times said the effect on consumers' finances as a result of the output cap will likely be a minor dent at the worst and should be outweighed by the benefits to domestic oil producers—nothing like the sort of influence OPEC production cuts have wielded on the U.S. economy in the past. On a macroeconomic level, the price rise could help nudge the Federal Reserve toward its long-awaited interest rate hike, but OPEC's attempts to gouge the cost of petroleum could also be nullified by the expected surge in U.S. oil supply under drilling-friendly President-elect Donald Trump.
Andrew Slaughter, executive director of the Houston-based Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, an industry-specific subsidiary of the larger consulting firm Deloitte, said drivers shouldn't expect much pain at the pump due to OPEC's supply cut.
"On the consumer side, it could put a few cents on the price of gasoline, but not more than 20 cents," Slaughter told International Business Times in a phone interview, adding that he predicted a maximum per-barrel price increase of $10 in the short run, but, over time, a gradual movement to the low $50s. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the price of Brent crude, an international benchmark, jumped from below $47.50 to a high of more than $51.30.
Slaughter also forecasted a boost for U.S. oil producers like Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp., which have scaled back their expenditures since the price of the U.S. oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate more than halved to around $48 from about $105 in the past couple of years.
"On the supply side for the U.S., there might be a little more appetite for investment," Slaughter said, referring to companies' search, drilling and capital expenditures, which large American producers have scaled back this year. This benefit, he added, will be a gradual one. "It's not overnight that you can turn everything back on and get back to work."
Such positive forecasts stand in sharp contrast to OPEC's historical market influence. More than four decades ago, OPEC did serious damage to the U.S. economy when it not only cut production but imposed a total ban on oil exports, quadrupling the price of fuel in the U.S. Because so many sectors of the U.S. economy were reliant on foreign gasoline, the inflation rate jumped from around 3 percent to nearly 12 percent between 1973 and 1975. But the cartel is far weaker—and the U.S. is in far better standing—today compared to the 1970s.
That’s due in part to the dominance of a relatively new source of oil imports for the U.S.: Canada. While prominent OPEC member state Saudi Arabia was once the top supplier in the American oil market, Canada has overtaken the Middle Eastern kingdom over the past decade, and, as of 2015, accounted for more than 40 percent of U.S. oil imports, compared to Riyadh’s 11 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration's most recent data.
The U.S. still imports nearly a third of its oil from OPEC, but remains far less dependent for another reason: Three years ago, the U.S. became a net exporter of oil, with imports falling to around 7 million barrels per day, as exports rose above 9 million.
On top of OPEC's diminished trading power, the relationship between oil supply shocks and inflation weakened in the 1990s, as firms relied less and less on fuel as a major production input. This means that while consumers could pay a few extra cents per gallon at gas stations soon, they won't likely see a noticeable rise in prices of just about everything else—at least, nothing like the nearly 8 percentage point jump in the inflation rate after OPEC's 1973 embargo.
Inflation still isn't totally immune to a rise in oil prices, however. Lila Murphy, a portfolio manager at Pittsburgh-based Federated Investors, told IBTimes that inflation could rise slightly in the short run, but the effects should be negligible in months.
"In the near term, it would be a minor negative for consumers," she said in a phone interview, adding that U.S. shale production would eventually "close the gap" in supply, sending oil prices, and, by extension, general price levels, down in the medium-run.
Even if OPEC’s price gouging results in a slight blip in the U.S. inflation rate, it could be welcomed with open arms by none other than the Federal Reserve. When the central bank’s policy arm decided to halt its long-awaited interest rate hike in September and November, Fed Chair Janet Yellen partially attributed the delay in its use of contractionary monetary policy to too-low inflation and, by extension, low fuel prices.
If OPEC manages to boost the price of gas, it may therefore help the Fed begin a series of gradual increases in its target for the federal funds rate after its next meeting on Dec. 14, leading to a similarly steady rise in other interest rates, such as those of mortgages and government bonds.
Though Yellen cited energy prices as a contributing factor, Murphy cautioned that the influence of OPEC's move Wednesday on the Fed's interest rate decision would be minor, relative to those of a litany of other economic indicators, like the jobless rate and gross domestic product. It should also be noted that the majority of analysts expect the Fed to raise rates in December, whether oil prices rise or not.
Inflation and interest rates aside, oil prices shouldn't stay high for long, as America's new president-elect pledges to expand the country's already-booming energy sector. Trump has campaigned on promises to “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves” and “eliminate” energy industry regulations. In a telling sign for the industry, oil prices plummeted as the odds of a Trump victory rose on Nov. 8.
Tim Hynes, head of research at the financial insights group Debtwire in New York City, told IBTimes in a phone interview that a rollout of Trump's campaign promises, coupled with the OPEC production cut, "would put a cap on the price for sure" at around $52 per barrel and stay there by the end of 2017.
Like OPEC's influence, however, Trump's power may be exaggerated as well, Hynes said, as he expected the market reach a $52 equilibrium in the long run without the president-elect's help. He noted that the U.S. energy industry is already fairly unregulated, and that Trump's claims were "really all rhetoric."