For years when you listened to the news it would say Wall Street was up or down based on the performance of one or two big companies, or some new economic statistic such as inflation or employment. Right now the driver of Wall Street is the price of oil. As oil prices rise the market declines – even if Apple releases a new product! As someone who worries a great deal about climate issues, I’m conflicted on the oil issue. The dramatic rise in the price of oil is forcing people and businesses to change their habits which I see as a good thing. Indeed, it makes me wonder why some changes didn’t happen sooner. For example I gather airlines which are feeling the pain of the rise in oil prices are taking all manner of steps to make their aircraft lighter – such as only filling the water in the bathrooms of their planes half full. The logic being that most planes land with at least half a tank of water and flying that weight of water around doesn’t make sense.
The other side of the problem is that the rising cost of oil is hurting some businesses that can do little in the short term to reduce their pain. It is also hurting the consumer through rising food costs. For those on low or fixed incomes this is real pain. Now of course the oil companies coud agree to increase production to ease the supply and demand problem. This may result in a significant cut in the price of oil, especially since consumers and corporate behaviors are likely to remain as they are now. However, given we are dealing with oil, a product that is difficult, dangerous and expensive to extract – and which has a finite supply, there is really little incentive for them to do this. Big oil knows that in 50 years it will likely be out of business as we all move to alternative sources of energy. If they increase supply that 50 years may be reduced to 40 giving them even less time to re-invent themselves. In other words, I can see little incentive for Big Oil to change its current approach to supplying oil. To my mind, this current pain from rising oil prices will not go away any time soon. Therefore I would rather see governments focus on longer term solutions to this. I would encourage the oil businesses to invest in new forms of energy and even give them tax breaks for doing so. The sooner we can make the switch the better and if we know one thing about Big Oil it is that it is addicted to money.