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Will Oil Price Increases Trigger the Next Recession?

Will Oil Price Increases Trigger the Next Recession?

The following chart illustrates the global economic slump in 2008. The Baltic Dry index is the benchmark index for global freight rates of bulk goods (among others iron ore, copper, gravel, grain, and coal) and is thus an important indicator for global trade. As such, it also constitutes a reliable leading indicator for the oil price. The chart shows that the Baltic Dry index is currently developing a massive divergence from the oil price, which has been gradually getting wider.

Baltic Dry index vs. oil price

Baltic Dry index vs. oil price
Source: Datastream, Erste Group Research

Taking into consideration all Baltic indices, one may start to doubt the global economic recovery. But to be fair, one has to note that the capacities of the big shipping companies have increased drastically. However, prices should still rise within the framework of a global recovery of world trade. This leads us to deduce that the current upswing is mainly due to expansive monetary policy.

Baltic indices since 1999

Baltic indices since 1999
Sources: Datastream, Erste Group Research

The effects of the high oil price will soon feed through to the economic bottom line. According to the IEA the OECD nations spent USD 790bn on oil imports in 2010, i.e. USD 200bn more than in 2009. Jeff Rubin contends that the oil price increase in 2008 triggered the financial crisis and that the mortgage crisis was only a symptom of the high oil price. According to Rubin, high oil prices caused four out of the five most recent global recessions. This was on the one hand due to consumption, which is affected by the oil price, and on the other hand by the transfer of assets to exporting nations. For example, the transfer of petrodollars in 2008 amounted to USD 700bn in 2008, 400bn of which were going to OPEC nations.

The illusion of a “low” oil price is probably based on the fact that many market participants regard the all-time-high of USD 147 in 2008 as benchmark. At its current level the oil price is more than 200% above its long-term average of USD 32.6. Even adjusted for inflation, oil is anything but cheap. At USD 35/barrel on an inflation-adjusted basis, oil is traded clearly above its long-term average of USD 16.6/barrel. In other words, oil is expensive in a historical comparison, neither nominally nor adjusted for inflation.

Real vs. inflation-adjusted average price since 1982

Real vs. inflation-adjusted average price since 1982
Sources: Datastream, Erste Group Research, sharelynx.com, Bloomberg

The long-term comparison also reveals the fact that the oil price is traded close to its 150-year inflation-adjusted all-time-high.

Oil price 1861 to 2010 (in USD, 2009 = 100)

Oil price 1861 to 2010
Sources: BP Statistical Review 2010, Erste Group Research

An increase in the oil price tends to affect the economy with a time lag of several months. According to a rule of thumb, an increase in the oil price of 10% causes the GDP to fall by about 25bps. Since the announcement of QE2, the petrol price has risen by 22%. Petrol has increased above the important mark of USD 3 per gallon for the first time since October 2008 again in the USA. The high price feels like an additional tax to the US consumers. An increase in the price of 10 cents per gallon translates into a burden of USD 14bn per year for the US households. This means that an increase to USD 4 per gallon would put a burden of almost USD 70bn on US consumption. Many indicators – among them the relatively obvious weakness of the retail index in comparison with the S&P 500 index as well as the still extremely negative ABC consumer confidence  – suggest that “Joe on the street” can already feel the consequences of the price rise.

Petrol price USA (USD per gallon)

Petrol price USA (USD per gallon)
Source: Gasbuddy.com

According to the IEA the amount spent on oil accounted for 4.1% of global GDP in 2010. Should the price increase above USD 100 in 2011 on a sustainable basis, the percentage would probably rise to 5%, which, from a historical point of view, has always been a critical level for the economy. At an average price of USD 120/barrel of Brent this would account for 6% of GDP, at USD 150 for 7.5%. It would therefore come with clearly negative repercussions for oil-demand and the economy in general. Therefore we do not think that OPEC would wish to nip the shoots of the economy in the bud and expect the cartel to step up production drastically, should the price rise sustainably above USD 100.

Oil price burden (% of GDP) vs. inflation-adjusted oil price 1970-2010

Oil price burden (% of GDP) vs. inflation-adjusted oil price 1970-2010
Sources: Datastream, OECD, Bloomberg, Erste Group Research

By. Ronald Stoeferle of Erste Group

Erste Group is the leading financial provider in the Eastern EU. More than 50,000 employees serve 17.4 million clients in 3,200 branches in 8 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine). As of 31 December 2010 Erste Group has reached EUR 205.9 billion in total assets, a net profit of EUR 1,015.4 million and cost-income-ratio of 48.9%.

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on March 10 2011 said:
    Excellent and valuable article. Now we are getting some place where the oil part of energy economics is concerned.I have some problem though with what OPEC might do. I like to think that they are completely rational, but I can imagine how wonderful it must feel to sit in that building in Vienna and decide to raise the oil price by X dollars, knowing what it will mean for revenue. Quite a difference from those days a decade ago, when OPEC was trying to get the oil price up to 28 dollars.
  • Anonymous on March 10 2011 said:
    OPEC announced earlier this week that there is no shortage of oil resulting from the turmoil in the Mideast. The only reason oil prices are going up is the collapse of the dollar, which means the destruction of the US economy has become a self-feeding cycle that cannot be stopped.
  • Anonymous on March 11 2011 said:
    OPEC will always say there is no shortage of oil because the Saudis in particulat don't want to let anyone know if their quoted reserves figure is accurate and reliable. The book 'Twilight in the Desert' not only pointed out this Saudi tendancy but alsdo attempted some intelligent guesswortk about the truer state of Saudi/Gulf oil - with interesting results. The author was in the oil industry for some time so apparently knows his stuff.Actually, I don't think any oil producer will tell the true figures, except in secret conclave. We all, esp. governments and stock markeys have to go with 'best guesses'. Whichis not very satifactory given the importance of the stuff. All we can say for sure is that, if Saudi and/or the Gulf as a whole were to go belly up to any degree, we'd better start learning to do without the ICE, plastic and...Western civilisation.
  • Anonymous on March 12 2011 said:

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