Mideast Protests Drive Up Oil, Threaten Recovery
February 01, 2011 / Bruce Stokes
With oil prices soaring past $100 a barrel on Monday, thanks to growing uncertainty about stability in the Middle East, the somewhat distant, feel-good, democracy-awakening story coming out of Egypt suddenly took on a more ominous, economic tone that could hit Americans where it hurts most — their wallets.
The prospect of significantly higher costs for driving, heating and running factories raised the specter of an economic slowdown just as the U.S. economy has been showing signs of finally recovering from the Great Recession. Of even greater danger, rising energy prices threaten to sap growth in Europe, where recovery is shallower, but even more urgently needed as the euro zone struggles to contain a sovereign debt crisis. A new recession in Europe, the world’s largest economic area, would send the dollar higher, dooming President Obama’s goal of creating desperately needed jobs by doubling U.S. exports by 2015.
The immediate threat of runaway oil prices remains slim. Egypt is an insignificant player in world oil trade and global petroleum stocks appear adequate to weather a prolonged storm. They currently stand at 145 days of imports. The International Energy Agency in Paris thinks 90 days are needed for market stability.
But oil spot markets are notoriously volatile. The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, has risen 44 percent since August, beginning its assent long before the turmoil in Tunisia, Algeria and now Egypt, driven by expectations of rising demand as the world economy improves.
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