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The saga of fluctuating oil prices: Every drop is govt’s achievement, hike is blamed on international fluctuations

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By Harshmeet Singh

Right before the recent Delhi elections in February this year, the BJP, boosted by its success in the Lok Sabha elections and the state elections of Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, went all out to list its achievements in huge billboards across the National Capital and national newspapers. Among its ‘glowing’ achievements was “The Modi Government has been able to reduce the price of petrol by close to Rs 15 per litre!”. While the suggested drop in price was actually real, giving its credit to the Indian Government couldn’t have been any farther from the reality. For a country like India, which imports close to 75% of its crude oil needs, the prices of petrol and diesel are far beyond its control.

Prices of oil in major oil importing nations depend upon the international oil prices. These international prices, in turn, are mostly dependent upon the demand and supply mechanism. Any change in the equilibrium between the demand and supply, either way, can result in significant alterations in the oil prices across the world.

 Then why did the crude oil prices actually drop?

In June 2014, the Brent crude oil was being traded at $115 per barrel. In comparison, the price plummeted to $49 per barrel at the end of January 2015. This sharp drop in price was in stark contrast to the sky rocketing prices since 2010. A number of factors contributed towards the earlier soaring oil prices on the global stage. Countries such as China and India, in order to fuel their growth engines, turned into heavy oil importers, whereas conflict in Iraq meant that the supply of oil in the global market took a major hit. With the demand running higher than the supply, the prices showed a major spike.

Right from 2010 till the mid of 2014, the global oil prices hovered close to $100 per barrel. These high prices forced many companies in the USA and Canada to take up oil exploration in their own countries. The next year saw the major economies in Europe, Asia and the USA slowing down which resulted in weakening demand of oil. A number of newly introduced fuel efficiency features also meant that the demand of oil slowed down and came in line with the supply.

The USA’s success in extraction of Shale Gas has also resulted in a sharp increase in the global oil supply. The US produced close to 2.02 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in 2008, which was a 71% increase from 2007. In 2009, the production grew to 3.11 trillion cubic feet. Picture this – Since 2008, the USA has additionally contributed close to 4 million barrels of crude oil every day to the global market.

Although the production in USA boomed in 2008 itself, its impact wasn’t visible in the global oil market until recently. This was majorly due to the ongoing civil war in Libya and economic sanctions on Iran. These factors, combined with the threat that Iraq was facing from ISIS, meant that over 3 million barrels of crude was taken out from the market every day.

By the end of 2014, these conflicts and sanctions settled down. This resulted in the global oil supply overhauling the demand comprehensively. China and Germany, Asia’s and Europe’s most robust economies for a while, also started to slow down. Resultantly, a huge quantity of oil was stored for later use since there were no buyers. This resulted in crumbling prices in September 2014 (co-incidentally, Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister at the end of May 2014!).

With the oil prices crashing down, all eyes were on OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) to see if they would cut their oil production in order to restore the supply and demand equilibrium in the global market. OPEC is responsible for close to 40% of world’s oil production. When the OPEC countries met last year in November, they decided not to cut down on their production, hoping that USA would bend down on its shale gas production since the prices are crashing down. The USA, on the other hand, had multiple motives behind not cutting down shale gas production. Saudi Arabia, a dominant OPEC member, was against cutting down the production due to its past experience. In 1980s, during a similar fall in prices, Saudi Arabia decided to cut down on its production, and, in turn, lost a considerable market share. And a rather lesser known fact is that Saudi Arabia, with its $750 billion foreign exchange reserve, is capable of handling a few hiccups in order to beat its opponents.

Moreover, it is a well established fact that extraction of shale gas is a much more expensive process than the extraction of oil in countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. But when it comes to deep pockets, there is hardly anyone capable of competing with the USA.

Why didn’t the USA cut down its Shale gas production?

Ever since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, the west, led by the USA, has been at cross-swords with Russia. The USA has also imposed multiple sanctions in order to destabilize the Russian economy. Russia is one of the largest oil producers in the world. Its economy and annual budget, like most of the OPEC nations depend highly on the oil export. The USA, with its booming Shale Gas production is looking to decrease Russia’s share in the global oil markets.

Oil and defence are the two main drivers of the Russian economy. Close of 45% of Russia’s annual budget is funded by Oil export. With the global oil prices plummeting, Russia turned towards its defence deals to ensure that its already slowing economy doesn’t crash. Russia’s defence deals with Pakistan, which were highly objected by India, must be seen in this background. With oil prices coming down continuously, Russia isn’t left with many other options but to look for new buyers of its defence equipments.

How long would the oil prices stay low?

With motor vehicles becoming more efficient with every passing year and very few economies looking at a boom in the coming years, the demand for oil may not rise extensively for quite a while. But a conflict in one of the oil producing countries can surely create a mismatch between the demand and supply of oil. The future global events would drive the oil prices in the coming years.

What fluctuates the Oil price in India?

Oil prices in India are based on the global prices and the taxes levied by the Central and state Government. Different states levy different taxes on Petrol, which is why the petrol rates are different across the country. Goa is well known for selling the cheapest petrol in India. In 2012, Manohar Parrikar, the erstwhile Goa CM, reduced the VAT on petrol from 22% to just 0.1%! This slashed the price of petrol from Rs 65 per litre to Rs 54.96 per litre. Goa is, in fact, the only state where petrol sells cheaper than diesel.

The Central Government, on the other hand, seeing the global oil prices drop, increased the import duty on crude oil to 7.5% from the existing 2.5% in December last year. Interestingly, this was just 2 months before the Central Government was patting its own back for bringing down the oil prices in India!

Recently, the Government hiked the price of petrol by Rs 3.96 per litre and diesel by Rs 2.37 per litre, citing International fluctuations. It is actually amusing to note that the drop in prices is attributed to the Government’s achievement, where as a hike in prices is blamed on international fluctuations!

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New Reforms and Alternative Markets Likely To Benefit Farmers

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New reforms will benefit farmers who are reeling under the Covid-19 crisis. Pixabay

The Modi government in order to double the income of farmers by 2022 announced a slew of measures last week, and it is widely expected that these reforms will benefit farmers who are reeling under the Covid-19 crisis. Post Coronavirus as state reopens farmers might benefit.

IANS spoke to Ashok Dalwai, chairman of the Committee for Doubling Farmers’ Income, on the issue of strategic reforms initiated by the government and their importance to the farm sector.

He said the alternative market provided to the farmers will give them more earning power. The reforms will unshackle the agriculture value chains by deregulating the essential commodity trade and introducing a Central law to ease inter-state farm trade, effectively overriding the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis that have shown resistance to change in the past.

“We are not ending the APMC, but reforming it. Till now APMC was regulated by the state governments, now the private sector can establish its own APMC which will give an alternative market to farmers,” Dalwai said.

He said the way the telecom sector provided options to the consumers to choose the operators of their choice, in the same way the private AMPC will give farmers the choice to sell their produce at a better price anywhere in India. “The proposed amendment to the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 will ensure seamless movement of farm produce not only inter-state, but also within the state. Anyone having a central license can buy and sell anywhere,” Dalwai said.

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Ashok Dalwai says Alternative markets might help corona struck farmers. Pixabay

Dalwai said many states have already adopted the reforms and more will join in the future. “The new law related to APMC will be definitely adopted by the state governments and the Centre will provide the framework for inter-state trade of agricultural produce. If a farmer in UP wants to sell his produce to a market in Karnataka, he does not need to go there. He can do so online. The way e-NAM works for APMC mandis, e-platform will work for such farmers.”

He said the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act has been initiated with the sole purpose to provide better prices to the farmers. The government has also decided to free certain categories of agricultural products such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onions, and potatoes from the government’s control and lend more predictability to even export policies.

Also Read: Responsible Human Behaviour has Helped Animals: WWF

On the question of challenges due to Covid-19 with regard to doubling farmers’ income, Dalwai said, “The farmers have not been impacted due to the pandemic. There will be no problem in achieving the target of doubling farmers’ income by the year 2022.” (IANS)

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US CFTC Warns About Volatile Crude Oil Contracts

US Futures regulator cautions on volatile crude oil contracts

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CFTC has warned market participants about the negative pricing of crude oil. Pixabay

According to International News, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has warned market participants to be prepared that certain commodity contracts may see possibly negative pricing and extreme volatility in the light the negative pricing of crude oil seen last month.

The CFTC has issued an advisory on risk management and market integrity under the current market conditions in the wake of the unusually high volatility and negative pricing experienced in the May 2020 West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude oil futures contract on April 20 (the penultimate day of trading and expiration of the contract).

The Commission has emphasised that the subject of this advisory applies equally to trading in other commodities and the registrants should remain vigilant.

The CFTC
The CFTC has issued an advisory on risk management and market integrity under the current market conditions in the wake of the unusually high volatility and negative pricing. Pixabay

The CFTA said that the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic has adversely affected the economies of the US and other major countries.

Read More: Private Companies Now Allowed to Take Part in Planetary Exploration: Finance Minister

Global markets, including those regulated by the CFTC, have been affected by both fundamental and global factors this year as economies and industries have slowed down dramatically or shut down completely, resulting in unprecedented market impacts.

This economic downturn has coincided with substantially increased market volatility in key agricultural, energy and financial sectors, including the futures and options on futures markets regulated by the Commission, it said.

The impact of fundamental and technical factors has been particularly acute for contracts that call for physical delivery of the underlying commodity as demonstrated by the unprecedented price movements in certain commodities, the Commission said. (IANS)

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Finance Minister’s Announcements Will Boost MSMEs: PM Modi

Modi praised the announcements made by the Finance Minister in a tweet

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to appreciate the announcements made by the Finance Minister. Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday hailed the announcements made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to aid the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), which have taken a beating during the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Modi tweeted, “Today’s announcements by FM @nsitharaman will go a long way in addressing issues faced by businesses, especially MSMEs. The steps announced will boost liquidity, empower the entrepreneurs and strengthen their competitive spirit.

He also used the hashtag ‘Atma-nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’, which is a reference to self-reliant India, something which he vowed to turn the country into during his televised address to the nation on Tuesday night.

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Sitharaman announced to widen the definition of MSMEs and raise the investment limit on Wednesday. Wikimedia Commons

Speaking to the media here on Wednesday, Sitharaman announced to widen the definition of MSMEs and raise the investment limit. Another criteria, turnover of the company, has also been added to the required norms for classification of MSMEs.

Read More: Bars, Guest Houses Allowed to Open in Lockdown 4, Urges Goa Minister

Sitharaman also announced a collateral-free automatic loan for MSMEs of up to Rs 3 lakh crore, among other liquidity measures.

In a move to provide more scope for Indian companies, including MSMEs, the Centre has decided to disallow global firms from participating in government procurement tenders up to Rs 200 crore.

These were part of a multi-pronged approach of the government to rejuvenate the sector which has been badly hit by the suspension of economic activities in the country in the wake of the nationwide lockdown which is place to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. (IANS)