One of the key characteristics of the 2008-09 crash and its aftermath (i.e. chronic slow recovery in US and double and triple dip recessions in Europe and Japan) was a significant deflation in prices of global oil. After attaining well over $100 a barrel in 2007-08, crude oil prices plummeted, hitting a low of only $27 a barrel in January 2016. They slowly but steadily rose again in 2016-17 and peaked at about $80 a barrel this past summer 2018. Now the retreat has started once again, falling to a low of $55 in October and remain around $56 today, likely to fall further in 2019 now that Japan and Europe appear entering yet another recession and US growth almost certainly slowing significantly in 2019. With the potential for a US recession rising in late 2019 oil price deflation may continue into the near future. What will this mean for the global and US economies?
The critical question is what is the relationship between global oil price deflation, financial instability and crises, and recession–something mainstream economists don’t understand very well? Is the current rapid retreat of oil prices since August 2018 an indicator of more fundamental forces underway in the global and US economy? Will oil price deflation exacerbate, or even accelerate, the drift toward recession globally now underway? What about financial asset markets stability in general? What can be learned from the 2008 through 2015 experience?
In my 2016 book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’ and its chapter on deflation’s role in crises, I explained that oil is not just a commodity but, since the 1990s, has functioned as an important financial asset whose price affects other forms of financial assets (stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, etc.). Financial asset price volatility in general (bubbles and deflation) have a greater impact on the real economy than mainstream economists, who generally don’t understand financial markets and cycles, think. Hence they don’t understand how financial cycles interact with real business cycles. This applies as well to their understanding of oil prices as financial asset prices, not just commodity prices.
Oil Price Deflation Revisited 2018
Oil is a commodity whose price is determined by the interaction of supply and demand; but it is also a financial asset the price of which is determined by global finance capitalists’ speculation in oil futures markets and the competition between various forms of financial assets globally.