The big question
Following the agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC countries more and more international look is focused on oil prices that still struggle to find a stable equilibrium, while markets are preparing to take an oil demand that is still expected to increase

Oil prices have begun to rise again. While the worst is over for producers, employment in the oil industry does not seem likely to increase, as automation continually reduces the need for human labor. In America, for example, while production rose to 8.6 million barrels per day (bpd), as of September 2016, as many as 16,300 jobs in the oil industry have been lost. And 9,800 of those lost jobs were in Texas, the state where the most oil is extracted. Reducing the cost of oil extraction through automation is on OPEC’s agenda, perhaps even at the very top. Not all member countries can afford the American model. But those that can will do it. In Vienna, at OPEC headquarters, the discussion is open. Of course, the Intercontinental presidential suite, home and office to the Sheikh Yamani, the Saudi who managed to get everyone to agree by hook or by crook, no longer hosts its own supertankers.

Quotes still unstable

However, OPEC’s agenda is working. Two weeks ago, in mid-February, despite the increase in U.S. stocks and the fact that, overall, stocks of crude oil and gasoline are at record highs, oil prices remained stable at $53.11 per barrel. It happens that prices fall, but then rise again shortly thereafter to settle on the average trend. ''The mystery'', as defined by The Financial Times, is giving rise to conspiracy theories that behind the strange rebounds in prices there is an OPEC country that is more attentive to finance than product. On Wednesday February 22 a meeting was held between OPEC and non-OPEC countries; since then, all have cut their production to drive up prices, except for Iran, Libya, Nigeria and shale oil companies which, after the end of the sanctions, have returned forcefully to the market.

Production falling, rising demand

If January’s production levels remain unchanged or almost unchanged, according to the International Energy Agency (I.E.A.), global oil stocks will decline by 600,000 bpd in the first half of 2017. In the second half of last year, there was a reduction of 80,000 bpd, the sharpest drop in three years. All this against rising crude for oil demand. An increase of 1.4 million bpd is expected, of which 290,000 bpd more will be extracted from Libya, Nigeria and Iran. Another 400,000 barrels will come from U.S. shale oil production. Oil prices are, therefore, back under observation especially by governments of nonproducing, importing countries. With low oil prices, their economies (Italy, first and foremost) will benefit. But how long will the calmness last? At Vienna’s OPEC, it is already said to be over. The first winds of the next storm can already be felt.