Chart of the Week: Oil’s Breakeven Price

One way to gauge support for the price of oil is to calculate the breakeven price. In other words, what is the dollar amount per barrel that would be required for an oil-producing country to balance its fiscal budget?

Several factors go into this calculation such as the location (and quality) of a country’s reserves, and the spending habits of the federal government.

Analysts at Carnegie Investment Bank recently put together this chart, which illustrates the breakeven price needed for some of the world’s largest oil producers. Combined, these countries are expected to produce 30 percent of the world’s oil in 2011, Carnegie says. Note: these prices are for Brent crude, which have been $10-to-$15 per barrel above West Texas Intermediate prices this year.

Russia, which is currently the world’s largest oil producer, has leaned on the profits of the natural gas and crude oil exports to account for nearly 14 percent of the country’s GDP in 2010. But Russia isn’t the only export-dependent country. Many countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, have used oil profits to ease “Arab Spring” tensions by financing public programs.

However, Carnegie notes that the fiscal budgets of many oil-exporting countries were rising prior to the citizen revolution due to a lack of non-oil revenues, rapid population growth and generous welfare systems. For example, Saudi Arabia, which generates 80 percent of its government revenue from the petroleum sector, has increased government spending roughly 54 percent since 2008. Other countries such as the UAE (up 48 percent), Bahrain (up 53 percent) and Qatar (up 59 percent) have seen government spending increase over the same time period.

Carnegie says the result is, “OPEC countries have stronger incentives to defend higher oil prices, i.e. any drop in the oil price could mean lower OPEC production in order to try to secure higher oil prices.” It also means these countries are “less likely to invest in building additional production capacity.”

This only adds to our argument that we could see oil prices continue at their current levels despite a weaker global economy and softening demand for oil.

About Frank Holmes 265 Articles

Affiliation: U.S. Global Investors

Frank Holmes is CEO and chief investment officer of U.S. Global Investors, Inc., which manages a diversified family of mutual funds and hedge funds specializing in natural resources, emerging markets and infrastructure.

The company’s funds have earned more than two dozen Lipper Fund Awards and certificates since 2000. The Global Resources Fund (PSPFX) was Lipper’s top-performing global natural resources fund in 2010. In 2009, the World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX) was Lipper’s top-performing gold fund, the second time in four years for that achievement. In addition, both funds received 2007 and 2008 Lipper Fund Awards as the best overall funds in their respective categories.

Mr. Holmes was 2006 mining fund manager of the year for Mining Journal, a leading publication for the global resources industry, and he is co-author of “The Goldwatcher: Demystifying Gold Investing.”

He is also an advisor to the International Crisis Group, which works to resolve global conflict, and the William J. Clinton Foundation on sustainable development in nations with resource-based economies.

Mr. Holmes is a much-sought-after conference speaker and a regular commentator on financial television. He has been profiled by Fortune, Barron’s, The Financial Times and other publications.

Visit: U.S. Global Investors

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