Changes in the price of oil have effects throughout the economy. And it’s not just on the obvious things, such as petrol prices, energy bills and rail, bus and air fares. Most companies are significantly affected by the price of oil, as oil is a key input into their production, whether for transporting their inputs or the goods they produce, or as plastics or other petrochemicals. This is why the price of oil receives so much attention: we’re all affected by it. You will have seen the price of petrol changing dramatically over the past year or so and this is largely due to changing oil prices. The price of oil peaked at $147 a barrel in July 2008 and fell as low as $32 a barrel in December 2008.
So what is it that causes these changes in oil prices and what does it mean for the world’s economies? Read the following articles, which discuss these issues, and look at recent developments in the oil industry.
First fall in oil use since 1993 BBC News (10/6/09)
Trump’s world view Fox News, Interview between Greta van Susteren and Donald Trump (30/6/09) Oil settles above $71; China to boost reserves The Associated Press, Dirk Lammers (29/6/09)
Nigeria worries push up oil price BBC News (29/6/09)
Oil up to near $72 on dollar fall, Nigeria attack Town Hall, Pablo Gorondi (30/6/09)
Chinese demand forecast to boost oil price The Star Phoenix, Joanne Paulson (30/6/09)
Lower oil price hits Total profit BBC News (6/5/09)
Oil price hovers at $70 amid pipeline attacks Financial Times, Miles Johnson, Javier Blas, London (27/6/09)
What is going on in the oil market? BBC News (27/10/08)
Rising oil prices poses threat to recovery, Alistair Darling warns Telegraph (12/6/09)
Fears of oil crunch recede as recession knocks down global demand The Independent, Sarah Arnott (30/6/09)
- How is the price of oil determined? Give 2 examples of factors that could cause (a) the price of oil to increase and (b) the price of oil to decrease.
- How are company profits affected by the changing price of oil?
- OPEC is an oil cartel. What are the factors that make collusion more likely to succeed? Do they apply to OPEC?
- When prices of oil increase, why do we still use similar amounts of energy; still buy petrol? What’s so special about this commodity? Think about elasticity.
- How is the price and consumption of oil affected by the macroeconomic situation?
The pound has been rising against the US dollar recently. And as the dollar has fallen, so the prices of various commodities, such as gold and silver, have been rising. So what are the reasons for these currency and commodity price movements? The simple answer is that they merely reflect changes in demand and supply. But why have demand and supply been changing? Are there changes in the underlying economic fundamentals, or do they largely reflect speculation in times of uncertainty and resulting market overcorrection? The following articles address these questions.
Sterling rises on hopes of recovery Financial Times (4/6/09)
Jeremy Warner: Dollar weakness is a sign that things are on the mend Independent (4/6/09)
Stephanie Flanders Blog: What goes down… BBC News (3/6/09)
Dollar on the rack International Business Times (1/6/09)
Sterling hits six-month high against the dollar Times Online (29/5/09)
Exchange rates: What next for the pound? This is Money (2/6/09)
Gold News BullionVault (3/6/09)
The Top 10 Reasons to Hold Gold, Bar None! The Motley Fool (2/6/09)
- Explain why the pound been rising strongly against the dollar.
- What is likely to happen to the exchange rate of the pound against the dollar and the euro over the next few months?
- If it were possible to predict the future exchange rate today, what would happen to the exchange rate today?
- Why might it be a good time to buy gold? Why might it be too late?
When anyone buys assets – shares, a house, a car or whatever – one important consideration is their likely future value. But the future is uncertain. Your decision to buy, therefore, depends not just on the direct return of the asset (the rate of interest or the pleasure from using the asset) but also on your predictions about the future value of the asset and your attitudes to risk. But with the future of markets so uncertain, or at least the timing of market movements, what’s the best thing to do? The article below considers some of the issues.
The irrelevant future Investors Chronicle (6/4/09)
- Distinguish between ‘risk’ and ‘uncertainty’.
- What is meant by a ‘bear’ in the context of investing in shares? Explain why ‘intelligent bears’ would ‘leave some money in the market’.
- Faced with uncertainty, why might sticking to a simple ‘do nothing’ rule be the best policy?
- If capital markets were efficient in the strongest sense, where everyone has perfect information about the future, would people be able to make large returns on investing in shares and other assets?
According to the Nationwide building society, house prices rose in March for the first time in 16 months. Does this mean that the decline in UK house prices is over? Or is this just a ‘blip’ in a continuing downward movement? The following articles look at the causal factors influencing house prices.
UK house prices rise first time in 16 months Times Online (2/4/09)
House prices show slight increase in March Guardian (2/4/09)
Surprise bounce to March house prices Nationwide press release (2/4/09)
- Identify the factors on the demand and supply side that have caused the fall in house prices since mid 2007.
- What have been the main reasons why house prices rose in March 2009?.
- How likely is it that house prices will now continue to rise?
- What role does speculation play in the movement of house prices? What role is speculation likely to play in the next few months?
The term hyperinflation is almost an understatement when it comes to describing the level of inflation in Zimbabwe. In July 2008, inflation was estimated to be 231 million per cent. In January 2009, two estimates were made: one of 5 sextillion per cent (5 and 21 zeros); the other of 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion per cent (65 and 107 zeros). These figures are simply mind-boggling for most people living in low-inflation economies.
Commentators say that prices can double in a single day and this can render banknotes useless very quickly. In fact, local banknotes are scarcely used as people turn to overseas currencies that offer more stability. Recognising this, in late January 2009 the government officially allowed foreign currencies to be used in Zimbabwe as well as the Zimbabwe dollar.
In an attempt to stabilise the currency the Zimbabwean central bank on more than one occasion has tried dropping several zeros from the currency. But this has had little effect and in January 2009 a new series of banknotes was issued, including a Z$100 trillion note. This is unlikely to be the last issue though, but what comes after a trillion?
Zimbabwe rolls out Z$100tr note BBC News Online (16/1/09)
ZIMBABWE: Inflation at 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent IRIN News (United Nations) (21/1/09)
- Define the term hyperinflation.
- Analyse the main causes of hyperinflation.
- Discuss policies that the Zimbabwean government could adopt to try to reduce the level of inflation in the economy.
- Assess the impact of hyperinflation on the other major macro-economic targets.
- Research another instance of hyperinflation and write a brief summary of the cause(s) and the solution(s). You may find the Wikipedia entry on hyperinflation a good starting point.