Subsidies to Endanger OPEC Prosperity?

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Rapid growth in domestic consumption has lowered export rates in many OPEC countries.

OPEC member countries are thriving on oil-export revenue but, in many cases, eroding their export capacities by subsidizing domestic consumption, warns London's Centre for Global Energy Studies.

CGES calculates that OPEC producers have generated almost $5 trillion in oil-export revenue since 1998, a year of unusually low revenue when crude averaged $12.30/bbl.

OPEC members' annual revenue, according to CGES, totaled $103 billion in 1998 and will be ~$631 billion this year. Group production during 19982010 increased by an average of just 0.6%/year. Export growth was even lower at 0.2%/year.

Rapid growth in domestic consumption has lowered export rates in many OPEC countries. While global oil demand growth averaged 1.2%/year, demand in most OPEC countries increased by more than 3%/year during 19982010, CGES says.

Demand in Qatar, Angola and the UAE increased more than 5%/year. In Kuwait, the growth rate was 4.7%/year and in Saudi Arabia, 4.5%/year.

"A key reason for such rapid rates of increase in oil demand is the heavy subsidization, via low retail prices, of oil consumption in most of these countries," CGES says.

The analyst group expects OPEC export revenue to remain near $600 billion/year because of Saudi Arabia's desire to keep the crude price above $70/bbl and the rising need for OPEC crude as global demand expands and non-OPEC supply reaches a plateau.

But "surging" consumption within the exporters' group will trim export amounts and add pressure members to seek higher oil prices to sustain earnings, CGES warns.

"Unless OPEC's citizens are weaned off oil subsidies, the organization will hit a barrier beyond which it will not be able to push the price of oil without harming its oil export revenues," it says. "As things stand today, that barrier is still some way off, but it is out there somewhere, and OPEC should take heed."

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