(Photo from Inquirer.net)
Taking advantage of deregulation, it appears that oil companies continue their abusive practice of implementing oil price hikes that are bigger than what the world market supposedly warrants. This allows them to pocket extra profits on top of their regular net income, as the government also reaps windfall tax revenues at the expense of consumers.
Looking at local oil price movement from the start of the year up to the third week of March, the price adjustments in diesel may have been overpriced by 24 centavos per liter and gasoline by 15 centavos per liter. This resulted in about PHP9.67 million additional collections every day from diesel and gasoline products for the oil companies. Of this amount, PHP1.16 million daily go to the Duterte government’s value-added tax (VAT) collections. (Note that the administration has also been collecting additional excise taxes from oil products this year under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law.)
The Department of Energy (DOE) and the oil companies explain that domestic price adjustments merely reflect the movement in global oil prices plus the fluctuations in the foreign exchange (forex). For the Philippines, the international benchmark for refined petroleum products is the Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS). Since the country’s oil industry was deregulated more than two decades ago, these adjustments have been automatic.
But based on the weekly MOPS adjustments and forex fluctuations as posted in the DOE website, the price adjustment in diesel for the year should have only been around PHP1.31 per liter (as of March 20) while the actual net price hike reached PHP1.55 during the period. The same thing is true for gasoline which posted a net increase of PHP1.05 per liter when the adjustment should have only been about 90 centavos per liter.
The process of estimating the price adjustment is pretty straightforward. Oil companies claim that price adjustments for the present week is determined by MOPS price adjustments (expressed in US dollars per barrel) and the average forex in the past week. For instance, if last week the MOPS diesel increased by US$2 per barrel with the forex pegged at PHP50 per dollar, how much should the price hike be in local diesel prices for the current week?
Step 1 is to convert the MOPS price adjustment into PHP per barrel. So, US$2 x PHP50 = PHP100 per barrel.
Step 2 is to convert the MOPS price adjustment into PHP per liter. One barrel has 158.99 liters. So, PHP100 / 158.99 = PHP0.63 per liter.
Step 3 is to include the 12% VAT to get the final estimated adjustment. So, PHP0.63 x 1.12 = PHP0.70 per liter.
Thus, a US$2-per barrel increase in MOPS diesel at PHP50 forex rate in the previous week translates to a 70-centavo price hike in the domestic price of diesel in the current week. Anything above 70 centavos is “overpricing”.
It is important to stress that the “overpricing” based on the MOPS and forex movements does not in any way represent the true extent of how much prices are artificially bloated due to the monopoly control of big oil companies in the global and local markets. It just illustrates how deregulation can be easily abused by the oil firms operating in the country through implementing adjustments that are beyond the supposedly “justified” amounts by so-called international benchmarks such as the MOPS.
With the Philippines being one of the world’s most oil intensive economies, even the several centavos that oil companies overcharge through questionable price adjustments already translate to massive extra profits for the oil industry.
Using domestic consumption data as of the first half of 2017 from the DOE, oil firms are earning (excluding the VAT, which goes to the government) an estimated PHP6.25 million daily in extra profits from diesel and PHP2.26 million daily from gasoline. These are derived at by multiplying the 24-centavo estimated overpricing in diesel by the diesel consumption of about 29.34 million liters daily; and the 15-centavo estimated overpricing in gasoline by the gasoline consumption of around 16.66 million liters daily.
Based on market share (as of first half 2017, based on DOE report), the Big Three which continues to dominate the local market after more than two decades of deregulation, cornered 56% of the estimated daily extra profits of the oil firms – Petron, PHP2.43 million daily; Shell PHP1.76 million; and Chevron PHP0.56 million.
Again, these guesstimates merely scratch the surface by comparing local and international price changes. In reality, with or without price adjustments, big oil companies that run and control the global oil industry – from the vast oil fields in the Middle East all the way to your neighborhood gas stations, and all the technology and infrastructure that keep this massive network together – retail petroleum at prices many times their actual production costs.
To illustrate, the Philippines imports 79% of its crude oil from just three countries – Saudi Arabia, 35%; UAE, 28%; and Kuwait, 16% (as of first half 2017, according to the DOE). The production costs of crude oil in these countries, based on 2015 data (as cited by CNN Money), are just US$9.90 per barrel for Saudi Arabia; US$12.30 for UAE; and US$8.50 for Kuwait.
Yet, in 2015, Philippine domestic prices were based on the posted price of around US$51.23 per barrel (2015 average posted price of Dubai crude, based on International Monetary Fund or IMF monitoring). This means that oil firms in the Philippines pegged pump prices at crude oil prices that are about four to six times the actual production costs.
Under deregulation, the government has abandoned its responsibility to determine if domestic oil prices – whether in terms of price adjustments based on global prices or more importantly, in terms of reasonable prices based on production costs – are justified or not. The public’s burden is aggravated more by price speculation in the global oil market that further artificially drives up local prices which consumers fully bear because of deregulation. #