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Why Oil Prices Fluctuate

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During the summer of 2014, WTI oil traded at prices north of $105/bbl.

Around this time, Bloomberg had an article titled “Oil Topping $116 Seen Possible as Iraq Conflict Widens” while even Investopedia forecasted on June 19, 2014 that oil prices could “hit $118.75” in the coming weeks.

Forecasting is hard, and that’s why we don’t usually do it. In this case, oil prices stunned many investors by dropping off a cliff, tumbling to less than $50/bbl close to six months later.

As Warren Buffett says, many people were caught swimming naked when the tide of high oil prices went out.

Understanding Why Oil Prices Fluctuate

To avoid being caught in a similar situation in the future, it helps to understand why and how oil prices fluctuate. Today’s infographic from Jones Oil is here to help us understand the many different issues that can impact global oil prices.

It covers supply and demand, weather, technology, geopolitics, as well as other factors that make oil prices fluctuate.

Why Oil Prices Fluctuate

Ultimately, oil prices fluctuate because of changes to supply and demand, but the challenge for investors is that there are multiple factors at play that can affect those fundamentals. Many of them are interconnected.

These include weather events, supply interruptions (such as worker strikes or spills), broader demand trends such as the emergence of renewable energy, OPEC decisions, or other events that can have an immediate effect on supplies.

There are also meta factors, such as the “fear” that a future event may happen that could in turn affect supply and demand. This is where geopolitical risks get priced in, such as potential escalation of conflict in the Middle East or future election results of oil exporting nations.

Information and forecasts can also play a role. Imagine being an oil producer in early 2014, hearing some of the bullish reports above. Would you, or would you not invest in a project that had a breakeven of $60/bbl oil? Even a significant oil price fluctuation of +/- 30% would still have you come out on top.

However, as in the situation in 2014, this would have actually increased margin production, which would have only added to the glut in supply.

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Energy

The World’s Biggest Oil Producers in 2023

Just three countries accounted for 40% of global oil production last year.

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Donut chart showing the biggest oil producers by country in 2023.

The World’s Biggest Oil Producers in 2023

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email.

Despite efforts to decarbonize the global economy, oil still remains one of the world’s most important resources. It’s also produced by a fairly limited group of countries, which can be a source of economic and political leverage.

This graphic illustrates global crude oil production in 2023, measured in million barrels per day, sourced from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Three Countries Account for 40% of Global Oil Production

In 2023, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia collectively contributed 32.7 million barrels per day to global oil production.

Oil Production 2023Million barrels per day
🇺🇸 U.S.12.9
🇷🇺 Russia10.1
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia9.7
🇨🇦 Canada4.6
🇮🇶 Iraq4.3
🇨🇳 China4.2
🇮🇷 Iran3.6
🇧🇷 Brazil3.4
🇦🇪 UAE3.4
🇰🇼 Kuwait2.7
🌍 Other22.8

These three nations have consistently dominated oil production since 1971. The leading position, however, has alternated among them over the past five decades.

In contrast, the combined production of the next three largest producers—Canada, Iraq, and China—reached 13.1 million barrels per day in 2023, just surpassing the production of the United States alone.

In the near term, no country is likely to surpass the record production achieved by the U.S. in 2023, as no other producer has ever reached a daily capacity of 13.0 million barrels. Recently, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Saudi Aramco scrapped plans to increase production capacity to 13.0 million barrels per day by 2027.

In 2024, analysts forecast that the U.S. will maintain its position as the top oil producer. In fact, according to Macquarie Group, U.S. oil production is expected to achieve a record pace of about 14 million barrels per day by the end of the year.

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