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Greasing the wheel: Oil’s role in the global crisis

Authors : Thomas Spencer et Lucas ChancelWith / 16th of May 2012

Sur le site de Vox EU, le journal en ligne des économistes européens, Lucas Chancel et Thomas Spencer évaluent dans un premier temps le rôle des prix du pétrole — et leur volatilité — dans l’apparition de la crise, notamment dans la crise des subprimes aux États-Unis. La hausse des prix du pétrole, et l’augmentation concomitante du montant des importations de pétrole aux États-Unis et des investissements en pétrodollars des pays exportateurs aux États-Unis, ont en effet favorisé la création d'une bulle. Celle-ci a explosé, à la fois par la hausse des dépenses en énergie des ménages et la hausse des taux d'intérêts, les deux effets se combinant pour limiter la capacité des ménages à rembourser leurs emprunts immobiliers.

Between January 2002 and August 2008, the nominal oil price rose from $19.7 to $133.4 a barrel. This led to a large increase in oil revenues for oil exporters and a deterioration of the current account for oil importers (Figure 1). Between 2002 and 2006, net capital outflows from oil exporters grew by 348%, becoming the largest global source of net capital outflows in 2006 (McKinsey 2007). Capital outflows from oil exporters therefore played an important role in the global liquidity glut during the build-up to the US subprime crisis. Analysis of direct capital flows is hampered by the lack of reporting transparency and the use of foreign financial intermediaries. Indirect recycling also took place, i.e. direct oil-revenue investment in a given financial market led to corresponding knock-on flows towards the ultimate net borrower. Nonetheless, analysis from the US Federal Reserve suggests that “…most petrodollar investments [found] their way to the United States, indirectly if not directly” (Federal Reserve Bank of New York 2006). In short, the US was the ultimate net borrower, in order to finance its growing current account deficit. Such capital flows were invested in US treasuries, corporate bonds, equities, and asset markets. In turn, this placed downward pressure on US interest rates and helped fuel further borrowing. Quantifying the specific contribution of oil-revenue inflows is difficult. Nonetheless, oil revenues do seem to have reduced US interest rates (see IMF 2006 for a discussion). In sum, the direct and indirect recycling of oil revenues was a factor in the global liquidity glut that helped to fuel the US subprime mortgage crisis.

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