Oil price rise feeds Russia’s war

Saudi production cut also complicates global inflation fight

FILE - A person pumps gas, on Sept. 12, 2023, in Marietta, Ga. Oil prices have risen, meaning drivers are paying more for gasoline and truckers and farmers more for diesel. The increase also is complicating the global fight against inflation and feeding Russia's war chest to boot. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Oil prices have risen, meaning drivers are paying more for gasoline and truckers and farmers more for diesel.

The increase also complicates the global fight against inflation and feeds Russia's war chest. That poses problems for politicians as well as the people having to spend more to get to work, transport the world's goods or harvest fields.

Saudi Arabia's decision to cut back how much oil it sends to global markets has pushed prices higher.

The world's second-largest oil supplier has lowered production by 1 million barrels a day since July and decided this month to extend the cut through the end of the year.

Russia, Saudi Arabia's ally in the OPEC oil producers' coalition, also extended its own cut of 300,000 barrels a month through 2023. Daily global oil production this year though April has been between 81.7 million and 82.3 million barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration.

International benchmark Brent oil traded at just under $94 per barrel Monday, up from $90 before the extension on Sept. 5 and from $74 before the Saudi cut was first announced. U.S. oil traded at around $90.50, up from $68 before the Saudi cut.

Some analysts think oil could hit $100 a barrel based on robust demand and limited supply. But that's far from the only view.

Oil prices can be volatile, and while they might briefly top $100 in the coming months, they're unlikely to stay there, said Jorge Leon, senior vice president for oil markets at Rystad Energy. He foresees prices in the low $90s on average in the last three months of the year.

That's still high historically, he said, supported by "resilient" demand for fuel to drive and fly.

The Saudi cuts were a unilateral move outside the framework of the OPEC cartel, meaning the kingdom can make changes as needed to quickly respond to shifting market conditions.

Leon said the Saudis will review the cuts each month -- and could add barrels back if prices spike to levels that could seriously worsen inflation in countries buying oil.

"I don't think it will be clever for the Saudis to push that hard," Leon said. "The last thing you want to do is fuel inflation again with much higher oil prices. That's going to kill economic growth, and lower growth is going to mean lower oil demand."

A big question is demand for fuel, which is picking up along with rebounding travel following the depths of the pandemic. A robust U.S. economy increases demand for oil -- and the price -- while weak growth in China and Europe has the opposite effect.

"We see the upside potential for the oil price as being virtually used up and if anything envisage setback potential in view of the weak economy," said Thu Lan Nguyen, Commerzbank head of commodities research who foresees oil at $85 per barrel by year's end. "The oil price is only likely to climb more lastingly once the economic outlook begins to brighten, which should be the case next year."

Another factor is financial speculation, and it appears investors are piling into the oil market with bets that prices will rise.

"Much of the price surge beyond $85 per barrel is due to a flood of speculative money, while fundamentally there is still plenty of oil in the world to meet demand for now," said Gary Peach, oil markets analyst at Energy Intelligence.

Plus, more Iranian oil may come on the market as the U.S. "turns a blind eye" on enforcing sanctions to keep prices from rising further, Leon said. That could add 200,000 to 300,000 barrels a day.

Costlier oil feeds through to higher prices for gasoline and diesel, especially in the U.S., where roughly half the pump price reflects the cost of crude -- the rest is marketing, taxes and other costs.

Crude is a smaller share of gasoline and diesel prices in Europe because fuel taxes are much higher there.

Average U.S. pump prices are still well below the record $5 per gallon seen in summer 2022. But at $3.85 per gallon, they're still up 15 cents from a year ago. Oil costs are keeping gas prices high even as driving demand drops with the end of summer vacations and plentiful gasoline stocks, according to auto club AAA.

In Arkansas, the average price of a gallon of gasoline on Monday was $3.43, AAA said.

Diesel prices have risen as well, along with higher oil costs and refineries facing shortages of the specific kinds of crude best for making diesel. Refineries also are choosing to produce jet fuel instead, chasing profits as air travel rebounds. A gallon of diesel cost $4.58 last week, up from $4.34 a month ago.

That hurts farmers, who use a lot of diesel, and adds to the price of consumer goods transported by truck, which is pretty much everything.

Diesel supplies got even tighter Friday after Russia said it would halt the export of refined oil products to hold down fuel prices at home.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Boak of The Associated Press.