Oil Consumption Impacted More by Price than Deteriorating Economic Conditions

The fall in oil consumption was most dramatic following the escalating price of crude oil to $145.16 per barrel on July 14, 2008 then at any other point over the last several years. Price elasticity, a key concept in Economics 101, which measures the impact of price change to changes in unit volume sold, is helpful in determining which products have readily available substitutes or which, like oil are inelastic with no real substitutes.

As illustrated by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd in their book Security Analysis, 1940 edition, during the 1930’s the economy had a dramatic impact on spending and consumption particularly on discretionary items such as travel. In one illustration, the change in demand was most pronounced in railroad revenues where tickets purchased for railroad travel, declined 51% from 1929 to 1993 as measured by gross receipts for the railroad industry. Over this same period, spending on the consumer staples (inelastic demand), such as electricity encountered a decline of only 9%.

While almost everyone would agree that the current economic climate is one of the most challenging since the 1930’s, a quick review of oil consumption over the last several years illustrates that demand has not significantly contracted, suggesting driving habits only changed when prices escalated to over $100 per barrel. Oil consumption dropped only 4.9% from January 2008 through January 2009.

Figure 1 Oil Consumption Oil

As seen from Figure 1, the sharp drop in oil consumption in September 2008 of 8.3% appears as an aberration when measured over the whole year. The fact there are no real substitutes for oil in the transportation industry illustrates two important points: 1) structural changes to driving patterns are required to see appreciable changes to oil consumption and 2) how vulnerable we are as a nation with no readily available substitutes for oil in the transportation systems.

Figure 2 Oil Demand in China and India Wood Prices

With China and India undergoing significant structural changes as they rapidly migrate towards motor vehicles for transportation suggests the demand for oil should continue to grow relatively unabated. Until the price of oil climbs back over $100 per barrel, we will not see the structural changes necessary to develop alternatives to oil in the transportation market.

The bottom line: energy and in particular, oil has not experienced a dramatic drop in demand during 2008 suggesting driving patterns were influenced more by the price of oil then the struggling economy. We must begin to shift emphasis to alternative energies such as solar as well as hybrids and electric vehicles.

Here is the original: Green Econometrics

Don’t let the fall in Oil Prices Lead to Energy Complacency

The precipitous drop in oil prices may not hold for long. Speculators and fears of oil flow disruptions drove oil prices to an all time high of $145.16 on July 14, 2008 and is now down to $49.50 in November 20, 2008. Now the fear has shifted to the economy where deteriorating fundamentals suggest demand for oil will abate, at least in the near term. However, if history is any guide, demand for oil should be influenced by both structural changes such as consumers driving more fuel-efficient motor vehicles and cyclical factors such as the state of the economy.

Figure 1 US Historic Oil Imports Oil Imports

To get an understanding of the impact that both structural and economic factors had in reducing the demand for oil is to look at oil import from 1978 to 1988. Figure 1 illustrates the US demand for oil during the last major economic recession. The Oil Shock of the 1970’s severely impacted the US economy and the term stagflation captured our attention while interest rates reached exorbitant levels. From 1979 to 1982, US oil imports decline by 46% as the oil embargo of 1973 led to structural changes in oil consumption. US oil imports, as measured by the Energy Information Administration in U.S. Crude Oil Field Production (Thousand Barrels per Day) demonstrated a significant decline as a result of changing driving habits as fuel efficient import vehicles encroached on the domestic auto makers. The US consumers opted for foreign vehicles demonstrating higher fuel efficiencies and MPG entered our lexicon. These economic and structural changes dramatically reduced the demand for oil and subsequently, oil prices fell. It was not until 1985 before oil imports began to increase.

What’s missing from this analysis is the fact that during this period the US accounted for 27% of total world oil demand. . According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 1980, China and India accounted for 2.8% and 1.0%, respectively, of the global demand for oil. In 1986, China and India increased their oil demand to account for 3.2% and 1.5% of the world market, respectively, an increase in oil demand of 57% for China and 44% for India.

In 2005, China and India account for 8.0% and 2.9% of global oil demand while US dropped to 24.9% of global oil demand. While even China and India are not immune to the current blissful economic environment, when the global economy does improve, their demand for oil will more than negate any structural changes the US consumers make in their driving habits. The demand for oil should continue to grow as an economic recovery ensues thereby leading to an increase in oil prices.

Figure 2 China and India Oil Consumption CHINA AND INDIA

Figure 2. illustrates the rapid rise in the demand of oil from China and India. From 1980 to 2005, demand for oil increased 280% in China and 125% in India. Despite the improving fuel consumption in the US, the global oil market is more apt to be impacting from the growth in developing countries than conservation in the US.

The bottom line: don’t remain complacent, strive for energy efficiency and invest into alternative energies.

Author: Green Econometrics