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Higher Oil Prices Might Not Destroy Demand Growth

Higher Oil Prices Might Not Destroy Demand Growth

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The recent jump in oil prices to $80 per barrel raised a lot of questions about whether or not the heady demand growth projections for this year would hold up. In fact, signs of strain quickly popped up in disparate parts of the world. But as governments move to protect their citizens from high fuel prices (and to protect their political positions), demand might not be as price sensitive as analysts tend to think.

The history of oil price cycles show demand is highly sensitive to sharp increases in prices – demand took a hit in 1973, the early 1980s, the extraordinary 2005-2008 price increase, and the 2011-2014 period, when prices routinely topped $100 per barrel.

That record provides some guidance about what we should expect. Brent hit $80 per barrel for the first time in more than three years in May, a price level that would start to test the durability of demand growth. The run up in prices coincided with some early signs that consumers were losing their patience.

For example, U.S. President Donald Trump complained to OPEC in April about “artificially” high prices, and reportedly sent a request to the Saudis for higher output recently. Crippling protestsin Brazil brought the economy to a standstill and led to the ouster of the CEO of Petrobras. The International Energy Agency revised down its forecast for demand growth this year by 100,000 bpd, citing high prices.

Just as prices started to become painful, the OPEC+ coalition felt compelled to change course, and are on the verge of increasing output. Even with the recent price correction, demand threats still loom. The U.S. Federal Reserve continues to hike interest rates, which is strengthening the U.S. dollar and making dollar-denominated debt more painful to service. That is putting a strain on emerging market demand. The currencies of Argentina and Turkey have been slammed in the past few months.

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