Reading through the world press about rising oil prices, I have long been surprised at how many writers have ignored the link between the price moves and "easy money" conditions in the United States. The Economist does not make that same mistake.
The two main engines for the world, the United States and China (also the two biggest oil consumers), have both had their growth boosted by lax monetary conditions in the past couple of years. Indeed high oil prices can partly be seen as a consequence of low interest rates. The two most important prices in the world economy are the price of oil and the price of money, and they are linked. If interest rates are abnormally low (in bond yields as well as short-term rates), then as global demand increases in response, oil prices should rise—especially if production capacity is tight, as it is today.
Jim Rogers made the case for a long bull market in oil and other commodities in his latest book Hot Commodities. Everyone knows the rapaciousness of China’s growing economy, but the bullish end of commodity cycles have been driven by other growing countries in the past: more recently and notably Japan and Germany as they rebuilt themselves in the aftermath of World War II. You do not have to believe in the dwindling of long-term supplies of oil to understand that current bottlenecks in refining and other structural factors will keep prices high until market participants find conditions economically favorable enough to solve those problems. So eventually, we will reach a tipping point where new oil technologies or alternative energy forms will drive oil and gas prices down again, but that time might still be years away. In the meantime, I have been surprised at how many pundits have attributed oil prices solely to speculation, even as we have watched oil climb from $30 to $70. But I guess those of us long energy and natural gas need someone to take the other side of our trades.