Those who buy hybrid vehicles are not going back to SUVs  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

BusinessWeek has an interesting article on tensions within OPEC between producers who want maximise income from the declining fields now (while they still can) and the Saudis (whose reserves will last longer and thus want the rest of the world to avoid kicking the oil habit just yet) - Saudi Oil, OPEC's Ire.

t happens almost like clockwork. A few days before the end of every month, marketing executives from Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national oil company, ring up the likes of ExxonMobil (XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), sounding them out about the oil they need and the price they would be willing to pay. The Saudis crunch the numbers, set a price, then call the global customers back to see how much they'd be willing to buy. By the 10th of the following month, customers—there are about 80 in all—are told how much crude they'll actually get.

It's all part of an elaborate dance that goes on continually at OPEC's biggest producer. While the cartel may set production quotas for each member, the Saudis and a few other top suppliers frequently exceed those limits in order to meet world demand. And these days, the dance looks more like a tug-of-war, as the Saudis and their allies in the organization seek to contain crude prices while Iran and others want to keep them as high as possible. Saudi relations with OPEC "depend on where prices are; when prices are too high [the Saudis] side with consumers," says Vera de Ladoucette, senior director of consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Paris.

The tug-of-war is a key factor in the extraordinary volatility in prices lately. After soaring to $147 per barrel this summer, crude plummeted to below $90 in early September. On Sept. 22 it jumped again to $130 as traders scrambled to cover short positions and fretted about the U.S. economy, then fell to $107 as those pressures eased.

Why wouldn't the Kingdom want to squeeze the maximum out of customers? The Saudis have long memories and recall how high prices can cut into consumption; it happened in the 1980s and it's happening again now. Any threat to oil's leading role as a source of energy is a big worry for a country that sits on reserves of some 260 billion barrels. "We are concerned about the permanent destruction of demand," says a senior Saudi official. "Those who buy hybrid vehicles are not going back to SUVs."

OPEC hardliners such as Iran and Venezuela, by contrast, have less oil in the ground and are running short on cash, so they're more interested in maximizing revenues today.

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