Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Oil and the Great Deception

"What matters is growth from the emerging markets, not the United States or other mature markets."

Oil Bulls love to trot out China, and to a lesser extent, India, when discussing the unbelievable growth from emerging markets. I heard a money manager call such growth "massive." Well let's see just how massive this growth is. In 2006, China consumed 7.2 million barrels a day, and in 2007 it consumed 7.58 million barrels a day. This is "astounding" growth of 380 thousand barrels a day. In 2008, the barrel per day growth is estimated to be 420 thousand barrels. While the growth rate is fairly impressive on a percent basis, the absolute increase is hardly more than a rounding error in an 87 million barrel a day market.

Now let's look at the "mature" markets that don't matter. Demand from the 30 countries countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), was 48.96 million barrels per day in 2007. This demand has been flat for several years and is roughly the same as it was in 2003. This demand will begin to fall, as it has done in the past when oil prices reach very high levels. We have already seen evidence of this in reports on miles driven on U.S. highways which fell 4.3% in March 2008.

Let's look at what that impact will be:

OECD Demand declines one percent - 490,000 barrel per day decline.
OECD Demand declines two percent - 880,000 barrel per day decline.

As you can see, a one percent decline in demand from "mature" economies would wipe out all China's absolute growth last year. A two percent decline would be equal to twice China's barrel per day growth. So emerging markets don't really matter except in the context of the entire market. Are the OECD demand declines I listed above realistic? Yes, demand has fallen in previous years when prices were high.

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