A Theory of Price Caps on Non-Renewable Resources
In December 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a G7-led coalition of countries imposed a $60 per barrel price cap on the sales of Russian oil that use western services. This paper provides a theoretical and quantitative analysis of this new tool. We build a tractable equilibrium model in which the financially constrained exporter of a non-renewable resource optimally exerts market power, and the price of the resource varies stochastically. An important insight from this framework is that the supply curve is inelastic and can even be downward sloping, rationalizing the patterns we observe in the data. Contrary to the fears that an introduction of the price cap will cause a damaging oil supply shock, the exporter may have strong incentives to increase extraction following the introduction of a binding price cap. In fact, when the producer is large and has market power, a price cap that applies to all or most sales significantly limits the degree to which market power is used in equilibrium and stabilizes world oil prices. But if the cap is poorly enforced, or if the sanctioned state has access to a non-compliant “shadow” fleet, the cap is less effective at stabilizing world prices.
We thank Ben Moll, Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, and seminar participants at UCL and Ohio State for comments. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.