A cartel is a formal agreement among competing firms to control the price and supply of a particular good or service. In order to promote competition, U.S. companies are prohibited from forming cartels. In theory, cartels should not last anyway because there is too much incentive to cheat.
That hasn’t prevented OPEC, the world’s best known cartel, from defying theory. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, currently consisting of a dozen nations, has been thriving since it was first formed in 1960. OPEC operates under a system of production quotas agreed to by its members. Saudi Arabia, the largest producer by far, is also the most influential.
That didn’t stop Ali Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Petroleum and Resources, from calling Wednesday’s OPEC meeting in Vienna one of the worst ever saying, “In my 16 years as a minister, I have not seen as obstinate a position without move like this meeting.” He was referring to the hard line taken by Iran and OPEC’s subsequent failure to reach agreement to increase supply. Oil prices immediately surged on the news.
They shouldn’t have. Naimi went on to explain that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates “are able and willing to supply whatever the market needs,” which he currently estimates as an additional 1.5 million barrels per day. He made it clear that there would be no shortage of supply.
Does this portend the end of OPEC? Probably not. Yet cheating on production quotas has been going on for a long time. Most oil producing nations would love to sell as much as possible at the current $100 per barrel. Now that OPEC has failed to reach an agreement, the spigots should open wider. It shouldn’t take long before oil falls to $90 per barrel.