Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The next Great Recession - 2010 or 2011?

It has been a tough couple of years for the economy - in fact sometimes it is difficult to put everything in order. Through early 2008 oil prices steadily rose with apparently no end in sight. By the time we left Calgary in July, oil prices had exceeded $130/bbl. Increasing energy costs put a drain on the US economy, as shown by the Dow Jones Industrial average which dropped from a high of 14,000 in October 2007 to just below 12,000 in the Summer of 2008. However, I don't think many people could have predicted that the DJI would fall from 10,800 at the end of September to below 8,500 on October 10. No one had seen a drop like that since the great depression.
Looking back, the media blames sub-prime mortgages and lack of financial regulation. However, it is difficult to ignore the effect that oil prices had on the auto industry, transportation and consumer spending during those months when gasoline prices exceeded $4.00/gallon. It is also important to remember that this unprecedented price spike correlated with a time period where the world-wide demand for oil had clearly exceeded the available supply.
While governments injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system, the economy continued to self-destruct until the DJI average reached a low of 6500 in early March 2009. In this same time period, demand for oil had significantly decreased and prices plummeted to a low of $31 in early 2009.
Since March, world-wide government stimulus spending has fostered steady but cautious economic growth. Unemployment is still high, leaving consumers cautious. In spite of this, the DJI is clearly showing a strong recovery, reaching the 10,000 mark in early November. And as the economy improves, so has oil demand.
During the downturn we saw world-wide oil production remain fairly steady. US demand was significantly decreased, but China picked up about half of the available surplus. Now with returning US demand, we are seeing a steady increase in the price of a barrel of oil. In fact, this increase is averaging out at almost $1.00 week.
Increases of this magnitude have never been seen - except for the first few months of 2008, where the increase was almost $2.00/week. Of course we all know how sustainable that was. So, if you want my prediction, I expect to see oil prices continue to climb over the coming weeks - until sometime in 2010 when the increases will again reach $2.00/week or so. After a month or so of these rapid increases the economy will nose-dive again - ultimately constrained by the inconvenient limitations of a finite oil supply.
We will enter this next economic collapse in a significantly weaker state than the recession of 2008. How will this affect the next cycle? If you know, you are much smarter than me.

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