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OPEC is to blame for the oil swoon: BIS

The price of crude oil has fallen roughly 60 percent since mid-2014, which has largely been put down to worries of a global glut of crude, coupled with dwindling consumption.

But after four years of Brent crude remaining relatively stable at $100 per barrel, changes in production and consumption "fall short of a fully satisfactory explanation" for the abrupt collapse in oil prices, a new report has found.

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The oil ministers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attend the opening session of the Arab Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi.
Marwan Naamania | AFP | Getty Images
The oil ministers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attend the opening session of the Arab Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi.

Instead, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) blames the decision taken by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at a November meeting to focus on market share, rather than cutting output, for the collapse in the oil price.

A report from the BIS, the global forum for central banks, published Saturday said the last two episodes of comparable oil price declines were seen in 1996 and 2008 and were associated with sizeable reductions of oil consumption and, in 1996, with a significant expansion of production.

"This seems to be in stark contrast to developments since mid-2014, during which time oil production has been close to prior expectations and oil consumption has been only a little weaker than forecast," the bank said.

"Rather, the steepness of the price decline and very large day-to-day price changes are reminiscent of a financial asset. As with other financial assets, movements in the price of oil are driven by changes in expectations about future market conditions. In this respect, the recent OPEC decision not to cut production has been key to the fall in the oil price," the group said.

The finance minister of top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia told CNBC this week that the country will continue to dip into its cash reserves and use its ability to borrow to temper the ongoing storm in oil markets. Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf said Saudia Arabia had been preparing for a period of cheap oil.

"We have learned from the past…obviously the oil market, everybody knows, goes through ups and downs and peaks and valleys," he said on Thursday.

"We have the resources…we (have) built the buffers to help us in sustaining our policies and not disrupting them so I am comfortable that we will be able to continue that," Al-Assaf said.

But OPEC are not the only culprits. The BIS said the substantial increase in debt borne by the oil sector in recent years was also a major factor in exacerbating the oil price.

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The willingness of investors to lend against oil reserves has enabled oil firms to borrow large amounts, while energy companies have issued substantial amounts of investment-grade and high-yield bonds, the BIS said.

"Against this background of high debt, a fall in the price of oil weakens the balance sheets of producers and tightens credit conditions, potentially exacerbating the price drop as a result of sales of oil assets," the bank said.

"The build-up of debt in the oil sector is a reminder that high debt levels can induce significant macro-financial interactions. Such interactions need to be understood better in order fully to appreciate the macroeconomic impact of falling oil prices," they added.