The world’s financial markets have shifted their focus from oil supply problems to the demand side of the equation. They appear to have decided that the US and European economies look so dire that oil consumption will collapse. As a result, oil prices have been in free-fall, barely staying above US$100 per barrel. If the recent hostilities in Georgia had taken place a couple of months earlier, oil prices would almost certainly have shot up. But with the shift in focus, they scarcely reacted to the conflict.
Unfortunately for Australian motorists, a weak Australian dollar is preventing the full effect of lower oil prices coming though to the price of petrol at the pump. Oil is not the only commodity to see price declines, not good news for the currency of a commodity producing country. More significantly, the Reserve Bank has started cutting interest rates and the dollar is moving down alongside rates. Since the end of July, the dollar has fallen almost as much as oil. The result, evident in the graphs below, is that oil prices have not fallen nearly as much in Australian dollar terms as they have in US dollar terms.
A little while ago I wrote about the relationship between crude oil prices and the price Sydney motorists are paying for petrol at the pump. The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has now released their price data for June and, not surprisingly, prices continued to track moves implied by rising crude oil prices. The simple regression model suggested that average prices would be up 8 cents/litre. The AAA data shows a rise of 10 cents/litre in the average Sydney price.
Soaring petrol prices have led to all sorts of calls for action to help reduce prices. The Opposition called for a 5 cents per litre reduction in the excise on petrol, which currently stands at 38.1 cents per litre. (See note below for an explanation of the strike-throughs). the abolition of the double taxation of petrol by eliminating Goods and Services Tax (GST) on petrol excise. Since the excise is currently 38.1 cents per litre, this would save 3.8 cents per litre. One Victorian Liberal MP, Chris Pearce, went further and called for a 10 cent reduction in petrol excise. The Rudd Government initially claimed that there was nothing more that they could do, but then buckled to the pressure and has proposed the introduction of a national FuelWatch scheme aimed at promoting price transparency at the bowser. The Minister for Competition Policy & Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen, has indicated that this scheme is expected to save around 2 cents per litre. So, what is going on with petrol prices and what are the merits of these proposals?
The Joint Economic Committee is a standing committee of the US Congress is charged with reporting on US economic conditions. Needless to say, the Committee is making a close study of the financial turmoil triggered by the collapse in US house prices and rising delinquency rates among “sub-prime” borrowers. Recently Alex J. Pollock gave testimony to the Committee entitled “Regulatory Implications of the Housing and Mortgage Bubble and Bust”. Continue reading