Tuesday, December 15, 2015

El Niño Drags Down Oil Prices

It may be the warmest December ever in the eastern United States. When I look out the window it is sunny and almost warm. There is no need to turn on the furnace on a day like this, and across the region, heating oil sales are postponed by a month as we expect November-like weather for the rest of December. It is not just Pennsylvania that is unusually warm. With El Niño conditions, the contiguous United States had the warmest September–November on record, and the year is expected to end up as the warmest ever recorded for the world as a whole. The low demand for fuel for heating has an effect on world oil prices. After two years of drastic decline, oil prices are now nearing the recession minimums of seven years ago. A decline in manufacturing and a slow trend toward electric power for transportation could keep oil prices low for years.

Oil prices go up in the long run as an effect of population growth, but that is a trend that could change after the climate summit in Paris. The final climate agreement, while not spelling out specifics, points toward a change in population policies and may eventually reduce and eliminate government initiatives aimed at promoting population growth. Global population will continue to grow for generations, but any reduction in growth rates will tend to slow the increase in oil prices.