爱思英语编者按:石油,地质勘探的主要对象之一,是一种粘稠的、深褐色液体。地壳上层部分地区有石油储存。主要成分是各种烷烃、环烷烃、芳香烃的混合物。石油的成油机理有生物沉积变油和石化油两种学说,前者较广为接受,认为石油是古代海洋或湖泊中的生物经过漫长的演化形成,属于生物沉积变油,不可再生;后者认为石油是由地壳内本身的碳生成,与生物无关,可再生。石油主要被用来作为燃油和汽油,也是许多化学工业产品,如溶液、化肥、杀虫剂和塑料等的原料。古埃及、古巴比伦人在很古以前已开采利用石油。“石油”这个中文名称是由北宋大科学家沈括第一次命名的。
The world economy
世界经济
Who's afraid of cheap oil?
谁害怕廉价石油?
 
Low energy prices ought to be a shot in the arm for the economy. Think again
处于低位的能源价格理应成为经济的一剂强心剂。但是,转念一想.....
 
ALONG with bank runs and market crashes, oil shocks have rare power to set monsters loose. Starting with the Arab oil embargo of 1973, people have learnt that sudden surges in the price of oil cause economic havoc. Conversely, when the price slumps because of a glut, as in 1986, it has done the world a power of good. The rule of thumb is that a 10% fall in oil prices boosts growth by 0.1-0.5 percentage points.
 
石油冲击波与银行挤兑和市场崩盘一起,具有一种放松对怪兽捆绑的罕见力量。从1973年的阿拉伯石油禁运开始,人们认识到,油价的飙升会引发经济浩劫。相反,当油价像1986年那样,因为供过于求而暴跌时,它会给世界带来了各种各样的好处。一般来说,油价下跌10%,能够提升增长0.1-0.5个百分点。
 
In the past 18 months the price has fallen by 75%, from $110 a barrel to below $27. Yet this time the benefits are less certain. Although consumers have gained, producers are suffering grievously. The effects are spilling into financial markets, and could yet depress consumer confidence. Perhaps the benefits of such ultra-cheap oil still outweigh the costs, but markets have fallen so far so fast that even this is no longer clear.
 
在过去18月中,油价下跌了75%,每桶的价格从110美元跌至27美元之下。然而,这一次,好处就没有确定了。尽管消费者已经获益,生产商却在饱受煎熬。其后果正在殃及金融市场,而且有可能打压消费者的信心。如此超级廉价的石油的好处可能仍然要大于代价,但是,到目前为止,市场的下跌之快,甚至让这一点也变得不再那么明确了。
 
The new economics of oil
新石油经济
 
The world is drowning in oil. Saudi Arabia is pumping at almost full tilt. It is widely thought that the Saudis want to drive out higher-cost producers from the industry, including some of the fracking firms that have boosted oil output in the United States from 5m barrels a day (b/d) in 2008 to over 9m b/d now. Saudi Arabia will also be prepared to suffer a lot of pain to thwart Iran, its bitter rival, which this week was poised to rejoin oil markets as nuclear sanctions were lifted, with potential output of 3m-4m b/d.
 
世界正在淹没在石油之中。沙特正在开足马力往外打油。一种被广为接受的观点认为,沙特想把成本较高的生产商挤出这一行业,这其中就包括把美国的原油日产量从2008年的500万桶提高到目前的900多万桶的一些页岩油企业。同时,沙特还将准备承受一些痛苦,以便打击随着核制裁被解除而准备好在本周重返石油市场的、潜在日产量为300-400万桶的死对头伊朗。
 
Despite the Saudis' efforts, however, producers have proved resilient. Many frackers have eked out efficiencies. They hate the idea of plugging their wells only for the wildcatter on the next block to reap the reward when prices rebound. They will not pack up so long as prices cover day-to-day costs, in some cases as low as $15 a barrel. Meanwhile oil stocks in the mostly rich-country OECD in October stood at 267 days' net imports, almost 50% higher than five years earlier. They will continue to grow, especially if demand slows by more than expected in China and the rest of Asia. Forecasting the oil price is a mug's game (as the newspaper that once speculated about $5 oil, we speak from experience), but few expect it to start rising before 2017. Today's price could mark the bottom of the barrel. Some are predicting a trough of as low as $10.
 
然而,尽管沙特尽了极大的努力,生产商却显示出十足的韧劲。许多页岩油企业挤出了效率。它们痛恨封闭自家油井却让投机分子在油价反弹时从下一个区域获利的想法。只要油价还够应付在有些情况下已经低至每桶15美元的日常成本,他们就不会卷铺盖卷走人。与此同时,大多数富裕国家的原油储备已在去年10月达到267天的净进口量,比5年前高出将近一半。这些储备还会继续增加,尤其是在中国和亚洲其他地区的需求减速大于预期的情况下。预测油价是一件吃力不讨好的事情(正如本报曾经根据经验,预测油价将跌至大约5美元那样)。但是,没有几个人预测油价会在2017年之前开始上涨。目前的价格可能已经见底。有的人正在预测低至10美元的底部。
 
The lower the better, you might say. Look at how cheap oil has boosted importers, from Europe to South Asia. The euro area's oil-import bill has fallen by 2% of GDP since mid-2014. India has become the world's fastest-growing large economy.
 
人们也许会说,当然是越低越好了。看看廉价的石油是如何提振了从欧洲到南亚的那些进口国吧。欧元区的石油进口账单在GDP中的占比,自2014年中期以来下降了2个百分点。印度已经成为全世界发展最快的大型经济体。
 
Yet the latest lurch down is also a source of anxiety. Collapsing revenues could bring political instability to fragile parts of the world, such as Venezuela and the Gulf, and fuel rivalries in the Middle East. Cheap oil has a green lining, as it drags down the global price of natural gas, which crowds out coal, a dirtier fuel. But in the long run, cheap fossil fuels reduce the incentive to act on climate change. Most worrying of all is the corrosive new economics of oil.
 
然而,这次大跌还是焦虑的一大源头。崩塌的收入可能会给世界上的一些脆弱地区,如委内瑞拉和海湾地区,带去政治上的不稳定;同时,它还可能加剧中东地区的对抗。廉价的石油还会因为压低了将更加肮脏的燃料——煤炭挤出市场的天然气的全球价格而有助于环保。但是,从长期来看,廉价的化石燃料降低了对气候变化有所作为的动力。最令人担忧的是具有慢性破坏作用的新石油经济。
 
In the past cheap oil has buoyed the world economy because consumers spend much more out of one extra dollar in their pocket than producers do. Today that reckoning is less straightforward than it was. American consumers may have been saving more than was expected. Oil producers are tightening their belts, having spent extravagantly when prices were high. After the latest drop in crude prices, Russia announced a 10% cut in public spending. Even Saudi Arabia is slashing its budget to deal with its deficit of 15% of GDP.
 
过去,廉价石油因为消费者会之掏出比生产商多得多的额外支出而提振了世界经济。如今,这笔帐算起来已经不如原来那样直接了。美国消费者可能一直在超出预期地储蓄。油价高企时大手大脚花钱的石油生产商正在勒紧裤腰带。经过这一轮的油价大跌后,俄罗斯已经宣布将公共开支削减10%。就连沙特也在大幅消减预算以应对占GDP15%的赤字。
 
Cheap oil also hurts demand in more important ways. When crude was over $100 a barrel it made sense to spend on exploration in out-of-the-way provinces, such as the Arctic, west Africa and deep below the saline rock off the coast of Brazil. As prices have tumbled, so has investment. Projects worth $380 billion have been put on hold. In America spending on fixed assets in the oil industry has fallen by half from its peak. The poison has spread: the purchasing managers' index for December, of 48.2, registered an accelerating contraction across the whole of American manufacturing. In Brazil the harm to Petrobras, the national oil company, from the oil price has been exacerbated by a corruption scandal that has paralysed the highest echelons of government.
 
廉价石油还以更加重要的方式伤害需求。当油价超过每桶100美元时,为北极、西非和巴西深海岩层等偏远地区的勘探和开采而花钱是有意义的。随着油价的暴跌,投资也在急剧减少。价值3800亿美元的多个项目已经被叫停。美国石油行业对固定资产的开支已经从峰值下降了一半。毒性已经四处扩散:去年12月48.2%的采购经理人指数录得了全美制造业的一次整体加速收缩。在巴西,油价对国有石油企业巴西石油的伤害已经因为令政府高层处于瘫痪状态的一件腐败丑闻而被放大。
 
The fall in investment and asset prices is all the more harmful because it is so rapid. As oil collapses against the backdrop of a fragile world economy, it could trigger defaults.
 
投资的减少和资产价格的下跌,因为速度过快而更加有害。由于这一次油价是崩塌是在全球经济脆弱不堪的背景下发生的,它可能触发各种违约。
 
The possible financial spillovers are hard to assess. Much of the $650 billion rise in emerging-market corporate debt since 2007 has been in oil and commodity industries. Oil plays a central role in a clutch of emerging markets prone to trouble. With GDP in Russia falling, the government could well face a budgetary crisis within months. Venezuela, where inflation is above 140%, has declared an economic state of emergency.
 
潜在的金融溢出是难以评估的。新兴市场企业自2007年以来所增加的6500亿美元债务中的绝大部分都发生在石油和大宗商品行业。石油在很多容易陷入困境的新兴市场中占据着举足轻重的地位。鉴于俄罗斯GDP的下降,该国政府极有可能在数月内面临一场预算危机。通胀超过140%的委内瑞拉已经宣布了经济紧急状态。
 
Other oil producers are prone to a similar, if milder, cycle of weaker growth, a falling currency, imported inflation and tighter monetary policy. Central banks in Colombia and Mexico raised interest rates in December. Nigeria is rationing dollars in a desperate (probably doomed) effort to boost its currency.
 
其他的石油生产国容易很可能进入一段虽然较为温和但却是同样的弱增长、货币贬值、输入性通胀和从紧的货币政策的周期。哥伦比亚和墨西哥央行已于去年12月提高了利率。尼日利亚正在对美元实施资本管制,竭尽全力(可能是垂死挣扎地)提振其货币。
 
There are strains in rich countries, too. Yields on corporate high-yield bonds have jumped from about 6.5% in mid-2015 to 9.7% today. Investors' aversion spread quickly from energy firms to all borrowers. With bears stalking equity markets, global indices are plumbing 30-month lows. Central bankers in rich countries worry that persistent low inflation will feed expectations of static or falling prices—in effect, raising real interest rates. Policymakers' ability to respond is constrained because rates, close to zero, cannot be cut much more.
 
富裕国家也存在压力。高收益的企业债券的收益率已经从2015年年中的6.5%左右跳升至目前的9.7%。投资者的避险行为快速地从能源企业扩散到了所有的借钱方。证券市场熊势明显,全球各大指数都在下探30个月的低点。富裕国家的央行银行家担心,持续的低通胀将造成物价停滞或者是跌跌不休的预期——实际上,这相当于提高了实际利率。决策者的应对能力则掣肘于不可能再被大幅下调的零利率。
 
Make the best of it
利用好这次机会
 
The oil-price drop creates vast numbers of winners in India and China. It gives oil-dependent economies like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela an urgent reason to embrace reform. It offers oil importers, like South Korea, a chance to tear up wasteful energy subsidies—or boost inflation and curb deficits by raising taxes. But this oil shock comes as the world economy is still coping with the aftermath of the financial crash. You might think that there could be no better time for a boost. In fact, the world could yet be laid low by an oil monster on the prowl. 
 
油价下跌在印度和中国造就出大量的赢家。它给沙特和委内瑞拉等石油依赖性经济体提供了一个拥抱改革的迫切理由,给南韩等石油进口国提供了一个取消各种烧钱的能源补贴——甚或是通过加税来刺激通胀并抑制赤字的机会。但是,这次的石油冲击波是在全球经济仍在应对金融危机后遗症的情况下发生的。人们可能会认为,再也没有比这更好地进行刺激的时机了。事实上,世界仍有可能倒在一头逡巡觅食的石油怪兽之下。