For all the concern, the world today is better equipped to swallow expensive oil than it was when Jimmy Carter was installing solar panels and a wood-burning stove in the White House.
The main reason has to do with what some call the Wal-Mart effect. For every extra dollar taken from drivers' pockets at the pump in the form of higher prices in recent years, low-cost exporters from China and elsewhere have put roughly $1.50 back in the form of cheaper retail goods. Even at today's near-record prices, U.S. households today spend less than 4% of their disposable income at the pump, vs. over 6% in 1980.
Current prices are also a reflection of a strong economy, not an oil embargo or war in the Middle East. Since a market-share war between Saudi Arabia and Venezuela flooded the market with oil and drove prices to below $11 a barrel in 1998, oil prices have risen nearly eight-fold. During that run, the global economy grew roughly 5% each year.
Strong growth in places like China helps take some of the edge off the oil-price blow for U.S. and European companies such as Detroit's Big Three auto makers. Many emerging markets are hitting a "takeoff" stage, where per-capita income reaches a level that sparks serious auto demand, says Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Ford Motor Co.'s chief economist. Growth in emerging markets is a "structural development" that is "less sensitive to oil-price changes," she says.
Monday, October 01, 2007
WSJ reporters say economy is strong
By PETER FRITSCH and KELLY EVANS