Petrodollar recycling

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Petrodollar recycling refers to the phenomenon of major petroleum-exporting nations – mainly the OPEC members – earning more money from the export of oil than they could feasibly invest in their own economies. The resulting global financial flows can reach a scale of hundreds of billions of US dollars per year, and the phenomenon is most pronounced during periods when the price of oil is historically high.[1]

Capital flows[edit]

refer to caption
Fluctuations of OPEC net oil export revenues (1972–2005 data, 2006–2007 projected)[2]

Especially during the years centered around 1980 and 2010, oil exporters amassed large surpluses of "petrodollars" from historically expensive oil.[2] (The word has been credited alternately to Egyptian-American economist Ibrahim Oweiss and former US Commerce Secretary Peter G. Peterson in 1973.)[3][4] These petrodollar surpluses could be defined as net US dollars earned from the sale of oil, in excess of the internal development needs of those nations.[5] The surpluses could not be efficiently invested in their own economies, due to small populations or being at early stages of industrialization, but could be profitably invested in other nations. Alternatively, global economic growth would have suffered if that money was withdrawn from the world economy, while the exporting nations needed to be able to profitably invest to preserve their wealth for the future.[6]

While recycling petrodollars reduced the recessionary impact of the 1973 oil crisis, it caused problems especially for oil-importing countries that were paying much higher prices for oil and incurring debts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the foreign debts of 100 developing countries increased by 150% between 1973 and 1977. Johan Witteveen, the Managing Director of the IMF, said in 1974: "The international monetary system is facing its most difficult period since the 1930s."[7] The IMF introduced a new lending program during 1974–1976 called the Oil Facility. Funded by oil-exporting nations and other lenders, it was available to nations suffering from problems with their balance of trade due to the rise in oil prices.[8]

From 1974 to the end of 1981, total current account surpluses for all members of OPEC amounted to $450.5 billion (without scaling-up for the subsequent decades of inflation). Ninety percent of this surplus was accumulated by the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Libya, with Iran also accumulating oil surpluses prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979.[5]

Large volumes of Arab petrodollars were invested directly in US Treasury securities and in other financial markets of the major industrial economies,[9] often managed by investment agencies now known as sovereign wealth funds. Many bilions of petrodollars were also invested by the major commercial banks of the US and Europe. (In fact, the process fostered the growth of the Eurodollar market as a less-regulated rival to US monetary markets.) As the recessionary condition of the world economy made investment in corporations less attractive, bankers lent the money directly to the governments of developing countries, especially in Latin America such as Brazil and Argentina[5] as well as other developing countries like Turkey. The 1973 oil crisis had created a vast dollar shortage in these countries; however, they still needed to finance their oil imports. In early 1977, when Turkey stopped heating its prime minister's office, opposition leader Suleyman Demirel famously described the shortage as: "Turkey is in need of 70 cents."[10] As political journalist William Greider summarized the situation: "Banks collected the deposits of revenue-rich OPEC governments and lent the money to developing nations so they could avoid bankruptcy."[11] In subsequent decades, many of these developing nations found their debts to be unpayably large, concluding that it was a form of neocolonialism from which debt relief was the only escape.[12]

Foreign aid[edit]

Oil-exporting countries used part of their surpluses to fund foreign aid programs, with Arab nations becoming some of the largest sources of foreign aid in the years after 1973,[5] including through the OPEC Fund for International Development. Oil exporters have also aided poorer nations indirectly through the personal remittances sent home by tens of millions of foreign workers in the Middle East.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nsouli, Saleh M. (March 26, 2006). "Petrodollar Recycling And Global Imbalances". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved December 22, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b "OPEC Revenues Fact Sheet". U.S. Energy Information Administration. January 10, 2006. Retrieved January 7, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Personality: Ibrahim M. Oweiss". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. December 26, 1983. p. 8. Retrieved February 5, 2016. In March 1973 [actually March 1974]... Two weeks after Dr. Oweiss had used the word – at an international monetary seminar held at Columbia University's Arden House in Harriman, New York – it was picked up by a prestigious economics commentator in The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Rowen, Hobart (July 9, 1973). "Peterson Urges Cooperation". Washington Post. p. A1. Retrieved February 5, 2016. He thinks the U.S. should give more study to ways in which the excess funds – he calls them petro dollars – can be soaked up. 
  5. ^ a b c d Oweiss, Ibrahim M. (1990). "Economics of Petrodollars". In Esfandiari, Haleh; Udovitch, A.L. The Economic Dimensions of Middle Eastern History. Darwin Press. pp. 179–199. Retrieved January 31, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Petrodollar Problem". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved January 31, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Recycling Petrodollars". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved January 31, 2016. 
  8. ^ Neu, Carl Richard (August 1977). "International balance of payments financing and the budget process". U.S. Congressional Budget Office. pp. 27–29. Retrieved February 5, 2016. 
  9. ^ Spiro, David E. (1999). The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2884-X. 
  10. ^ Özel, Işık (2014). State–Business Alliances and Economic Development: Turkey, Mexico and North Africa. Routledge. p. 34. ISBN 978-1317817826. Retrieved January 31, 2016. 
  11. ^ Greider, William (1987). Secrets of the Temple. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671479893. Retrieved January 31, 2016. 
  12. ^ Carrasco, Enrique; McClellan, Charles; Ro, Jane (April 2007). "Foreign Debt: Forgiveness and Repudiation". The E-Book on International Finance & Development. University of Iowa. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  13. ^ Mukherjee, Andy (February 4, 2016). "Oil's Plunge Spills Over". Bloomberg News. Retrieved February 4, 2016. 

Further reading[edit]