2012 was a bumper year for OPEC. The oil cartel earned a record $1 trillion in revenues, largely thanks to the high price of crude. The average price of Brent crude over the past year was $111.50, the highest ever annual average even allowing for inflation, higher even than the peak seen during the oil crises of the 1970’s.
Physical demand for oil was not the most important factor behind this year’s price rise since global economic growth was weak throughout the industrialized world. The main factor was political. Concern grew that Iran’s nuclear ambitions might trigger a pre-emptive attack by Israel which might lead to a wider conflagration in the Middle East threatening oil supplies.
While OPEC as a whole did well from the buoyant price of oil, not all the cartel members benefited equally. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirate have done nicely in 2012 , making record revenues, but Iran has not profited. U.S. and EU sanctions have begun to bite. Iranian exports have fallen sharply and the country’s share of OPEC’s total revenues has fallen by a third.