High oil prices are here to stay
Global politics, a weak US dollar, and the price of gold are among the factors contributing to high oil prices
A number of forces continued to push oil prices higher last week, reaching their highest levels in the U.S. since September 2008.Skip to next paragraph
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One factor fueling the run has been the continued decline of the U.S. dollar. You can see from the chart that oil and the dollar historically are negatively correlated. This means that a rise in oil prices generally coincides with a decline in the dollar, and vice versa. The U.S. dollar has seen a dramatic decline since the beginning of the year as oil prices have moved some 30 percent higher. This could be due to fact that roughly two-thirds of the U.S. trade deficit is related to oil imports.
Despite the run up, oil’s upward rate of change is still within its normal trading pattern over the past 60 trading days. Accordingly, this may imply that it isn’t a spike and we haven’t crossed into the extreme territory like we experienced in 2008 and 2009.
Conversely, oil prices are positively correlated with gold prices, which also saw a bounce this week. Looking back over the past one- and 10-year periods, oil and gold have roughly a 75 percent correlation. This means that three out of four times, when prices for one go up, prices for the other increase as well.
Another factor pushing prices higher is the seasonal strength that oil prices historically experience leading into the summer driving season. This chart shows the five-, 15- and 28-year patterns for oil prices. You can see that prices historically bottom in February before rising through the end of the summer.
Rising oil prices are also a result of what the Financial Times calls the “new geopolitics of oil.” The FT says three elements creating this new environment are becoming clear:
1. Young populations with high unemployment rates and a skewed distribution of income are a volatile combination for the people in power.
2. To placate these groups, oil-producing countries are increasing public expenditures.
3. Governments are also to extend energy subsidies to shelter the country’s consumers from rising energy prices.
A Deutsche Bank chart plots the share of population under the age of 30 for selected North African and Middle Eastern countries against the unemployment rate of this group. You can see that large oil producers such as Saudi Arabia have a high level of unemployment among youth populations.
This is why King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has announced a total of $125 billion worth (27 percent of the country’s GDP) on social programs for the public. For King Abdullah, this is the cost of keeping peace but has driven up the breakeven price for Saudi oil production to $88 per barrel, according to the FT.