America’s appetite for oil declined sharply as the economy weakened over 2008. According to the latest reported information from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Monthly Oil Consumption oil consumption declined 13% y/y from September 2007 through September 2008.
Historically, the US has seen this type of demand erosion before. From 1979 to 1983, oil demand in the US declined 28% with annualized rate of a 10% decline per year. Over this same period, oil prices actual rose despite the fall in demand. Oil prices by barrel (42 US gallons) rose from $3.60 in 1972 to $25.10 in 1979. In 1983, oil prices increased to $29.08 a barrel, representing an increase of nearly 16% from 1979.
Economics would normally dictate that as demand declines so should prices. However, the geopolitical events and oil supply disruption maintained higher oil prices despite the subsequent decline in oil demand. It was not until structural changes in energy conservation and driving patterns were felt before leading to a fall in oil prices during the 1980’s.
Figure 1 Monthly Oil Consumption
As illustrated in Figure 1, the precipitous fall in oil demand over the last half of 2008 is quite dramatic in comparison to historical price data. The large fluctuations in monthly oil consumption during the 70’s and 80’s, were primarily due to supply disruptions. The higher oil prices resulting from supply disruptions over this period led to structural changes in the energy market that later resulted in falling oil prices.
Figure 2 Oil Prices
While falling demand and rising oil prices during the 70’s and 80’s is an anomaly, we see from Figure 2, that currently there is significant correlation between falling oil demand and a subsequent decline in the price of oil. Excluding the peak oil price in July 2008, oil declined 33% from the average price per barrel of $64 in 2007.
Perhaps the precipitous fall in oil prices can explain why demand for oil on a global basis has not declined as dramatically as in the US. As we can see from Figure 3, the drop in US oil consumption is matched with a slight increase in demand in Europe and only a moderate decline in Japan.
Figure 3 Global Oil Demand
The bottom line is the financial shock that hit global markets is dramatically impacting consumption. As a recovery inevitably ensues, demand for oil will increase and so will oil prices. Let’s not be complacent with hydrocarbon fuels. Falling energy prices act as a disincentive for investment into alternative energies.