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Oil prices peaked at almost $150 a barrel in July 2008 and fell sharply in the second half of 2008 to a low of below $40 as the global financial crisis hit.

Prices increased steadily over the following two and a half years to more than $100 per barrel in February 2011 and more than $125 in April 2011. Concern over supplies following the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ was a major reason behind this increase.

Over the following three and a half years oil prices varied in the $100‑125 per barrel range. This was the most (relatively) stable period since the first few years of the century.

In the second half of 2014 prices fell dramatically to below $50 per barrel in early 2015. Weaker demand due to poor global growth levels/forecasts combined with rising supplies during this period to cause this fall. After a brief recovery they fell again to a low of just over $27 per barrel in January 2016. Again increases in supply, particularly from Iran, and a slowdown in demand were the main causes. This was the lowest level since November 2003.

There has been a general increase in prices since early 2016 with more consistent rises from summer 2017 taking levels back above $75 per barrel for much of the past five months. Global demand has been strong over this period. Increases in supply, particularly in the US have meant prices have not approached earlier highs, but concerns over the impact of sanctions against Iran have helped to keep prices buoyant.

Prices fell in the final two months of 2018 and were relatively stable in the $60-70 per barrel range for much of 2019. Prices increased in January 2020 after increasing tension between Iran and the US. However, the Coronavirus outbreak, initially in China, then spreading to the rest of the world, have seen a dramatic cut in demand, oversupply of oil and rapid build-up of stocks. Prices briefly fell to below $25 per barrel in April 2020, the lowest since February 2002. They have since recovered to more than $40 per barrel in June as some countries ease lockdown restrictions and OPEC introduced large cuts in production.

 

This note provides annual, monthly and daily data for Brent crude oil prices. It gives some possible reasons for the recent very large price increases in 2008 and also includes the longest available oil price series to help put more recent price rises in historical context.

Most oil prices are quoted in cash terms (not inflation adjusted) even in relatively long time series. This generally means that when prices are compared over time increases are overstated and price falls understated. This is much less of a problem over short periods, especially as the price of oil has an important impact on underlying inflation. However, when prices are being compared over a number of decades and direct comparisons are being made –such as, is today’s oil price the highest ever? –then a series using real prices gives a more meaningful picture. The daily prices in this note are given in cash terms, the monthly and annual data are presented in both real and cash terms.

Data/charts on oil prices can be downloaded/viewed at:

Readers may also wish to refer to the following briefing paper:

The Office for Budget Responsibility has produced occasional analyses of the impact of different oil prices on the economy and public finances.

The top 20 oil producing and exporting countries are listed in the appendix to this note.


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