Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Jamaica stands to lose if World Bank’s oil price prediction holds

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2016 | 1:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
A section of the Petrojam oil refinery in Kingston.

While Jamaica has spent US$20 million (about J$2.3 billion) to hedge against the risk of a sharp increase in oil prices, the World Bank has lowered its forecast for crude oil to US$37 a barrel from US$51 a barrel in its October 2015 predictions.

The bank, in its latest

commodity markets outlook, said that oil prices fell by 47 per cent in 2015 and are predicted to decline, on an annual average, by another 27 per cent this year.

If the World Bank's prediction prevails, it would mean that Jamaica would take a hit, given that its hedging contract, with a strike price averaging US$66.74 per barrel, started in June 2015 and is set to expire in about September this year.

Lower oil prices, as well as the ongoing economic adjustment under Jamaica's economic support programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have been attributed to the macroeconomic stability which the fund's executive board reported last month has continued to strengthen.

Those factors have also been credited for the inflation and the current account deficit falling to historical low levels.

In the report released yesterday, the World Bank said the lower forecast for crude oil reflects a number of supply-and-demand factors.

These include sooner-than-anticipated resumption of exports by the Islamic Republic of Iran, greater resilience in United States production due to cost cuts and efficiency gains, a mild winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and weak growth prospects in major emerging market economies, according to the World Bank's latest quarterly report.

However, from their current lows, a gradual recovery in oil prices is expected over the course of the year, for several reasons.

"First, the sharp oil price drop in early 2016 does not appear fully warranted by fundamental drivers of oil demand and supply, and is likely to partly reverse," the report said.

"Second, high-cost oil producers are expected to sustain persistent losses and increasingly make production cuts that are likely to outweigh any additional capacity coming to the market. Third, demand is expected to strengthen somewhat with a modest pick-up in global growth," it added.

The anticipated oil price recovery is forecast to be smaller than the rebounds that followed sharp drops in 2008, 1998, and 1986.

PROSPECT

"Low prices for oil and commodities are likely to be with us for some time," said John Baffes, senior economist and lead author of the commodities markets outlook. "While we see some prospect for commodity prices to rise slightly over the next two years, significant downside risks remain."

In the IMF report submitted to the board for the 10th review in December, the Jamaican authorities also observed that despite increased surrendering requirements since the beginning of last year and reduced foreign exchange demand from public enterprises, given lower oil prices, there has not been any trend increase in the central bank's net foreign exchange purchases. "Indeed, net purchases were negative in September and October 2015," it added.

When Jamaica purchased hedging contracts from Citibank NA, covering six million barrels of oil imports over a 15-month period, expectations last year were that crude prices may climb back to US$75-US$80 per barrel on the world market.

However, prices have since fallen to just over US$30 a barrel.

The transaction was the Jamaican Government's first oil-hedging arrangement, resulting from a policy decision to manage the country's exposure to a predicted spike in oil prices from lows of about US$40 per barrel reached earlier in 2015.

The fall in world prices since 2014 has boosted Jamaica's balance-of-payments position due to a lowering of the oil import bill - crude imports total nine million barrels per year - even as it threw tax revenue collections off-target due to lower special consumption tax receipts from the state refinery Petrojam.

Jamaica imports about nine million barrels of crude oil per year.

A new Energy Stabilisation and Energy Efficiency Enhancement Fund (ESEF) has been introduced to, among other things, finance the purchase of the hedging instruments.

Legislation and regulations governing the use of the ESEF are expected to be adopted by February this year, ahead of the parliamentary debate for the fiscal year 2016/17 Budget.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com