Da The Boston Globe del 02/08/2005
Originale su http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2005/08/02/oil_prices_leap_to_...

Oil prices leap to a record after Saudi monarch's death

Analysts say Fahd's absence won't affect market in long term

di Charles Stein

The price of oil jumped into record territory yesterday following the death of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, but most energy specialists said they did not expect major disruptions in the price or supply of oil.

''I don't think there is any reason for immediate concern in the oil markets," said Nader Habibi, a Middle East analyst with Global Insight, a Waltham forecasting firm. Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995. Fahd's half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, has run the country for years, said Habibi, and his elevation to king yesterday should have no impact on the nation's energy production.

Saudi Arabia is the world's leading oil exporter and one of the few countries with the capacity to pump more oil in the event of a shortage.

Oil prices briefly reached $62.30 a barrel, a record high, before closing at $61.57, up $1 for the day on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The previous intra-day high was $62.10.

Oil prices have climbed more than 40 percent this year, to the surprise of forecasters and the consternation of consumers who are now paying an average of $2.30 for a gallon of gasoline. The price keeps rising, even though inventories have been steadily building and there are no signs of an imminent shortage.

What worries the market, say energy specialists, is the delicate balance between supply and demand. Most countries are producing all the oil they can. For the moment supplies are adequate, but the fear is some sort of disruption -- possibly the result of political instability in one of the oil-producing countries -- could create a shortage that would send prices rocketing higher.

Events that the market might shrug off in other times -- everything from refinery fires to hurricanes -- lead to price spikes and worries that a crisis could be brewing.

Tom Kloza thinks the market response is not entirely rational. ''This is all about crowd behavior, not fundamentals," said Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Services, a research firm in Wall, N.J. Kloza believes that plenty of oil is being produced, and that over time, consumers and businesses around the world will trim their use of oil in response to higher prices. He expects that by next year prices will begin to fall. Oil demand in China, a key driver of oil prices over the past two years, is already showing signs of easing.

Saudi Arabia has been a reliable oil producer for decades. The desert kingdom has enormous oil reserves and generally has been a force for keeping oil prices at reasonable levels. The Saudis are not simply being altruistic. The country was badly hurt in the 1980s when oil prices plunged. The lesson the Saudis took away from that episode was that stable prices ultimately are beneficial to both producers and consumers.

According to Habibi, Abdullah is considered pro-Western. By Saudi standards he is also a supporter of economic reform and political liberalization. Although he is 81 years old, Abdullah is said to be in good health. Who comes after Abdullah is less clear, said Habibi. A younger generation of potential leaders is waiting in the wings and it is not obvious yet which of them will emerge on top. ''At that point you might have a real competition," Habibi said.

Over the past few years Saudi Arabia has been plagued by a series of terrorist attacks, some of which have been aimed at foreigners working in the oil industry. So far, at least, the attacks have not disrupted oil production or threatened the stability of the government.

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