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You may be a winner as fuel costs fall, but pity the loser

Times Online
September 10, 2008

You may be a winner as fuel costs fall, but pity the loser

The 13 Opec oil ministers who gathered in Vienna last night could be forgiven for being tetchier than usual. To satisfy delegates observing Ramadan, the main session did not start until 9pm and the final press conference until 1.30am.

Not only were delegates likely to be bleary-eyed, many were dissatisfied for another reason: a more than 30 per cent price slide since July.

While ordinary consumers are delighted by falling petrol prices, others view it with dismay. Governments of oil-exporting countries, including many of the Gulf states, Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia and Norway, rely heavily on the proceeds of their oil industries to meet public spending.

Even the Treasury benefits from higher oil prices through its tax take on the North Sea, although it tends to undermine tax revenues from other sources so the overall impact on the UK is more complex.

Oil-exporting governments and their sovereign wealth funds are not alone in preferring higher oil prices. Shareholders in oil companies such as Shell and BP, both of which made record profits this year as prices soared, are obvious losers with lower prices, as are millions of ordinary British pension-holders. Suppliers to the industry — builders of rigs and support equipment — stand to lose. Those that rely indirectly on oil wealth, such as construction groups, hoteliers and suppliers of luxury goods, face leaner times.

Of course, everything is relative. Research from McKinsey indicates that, with oil prices at $100 a barrel, Gulf states stand to scoop a windfall of about $9 trillion by 2020. At $50 per barrel, that falls to $4.7 trillion.

The number of winners from falling oil prices outstrips the number of losers. Any company involved in the production and transport of goods over long distances – virtually every manufacturing industry as well as farmers, food producers and retailers. Central bankers have welcomed the slide in oil prices because it eases the pressure on them to maintain high interest rates to contain inflation.

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