WASHINGTON (Reuters): The International Monetary Fund on Thursday warned that the global economy was entering a period of scarcer oil that could drive prices up rapidly.
In new analysis by the Washington-based global financial institution, the IMF said market tensions were increasing between growing demand for oil from fast-growing emerging market economies, like China, and production constraints due to maturing oil fields.
“There is a risk that the tensions between demand and supply trends could intensify again and prices could rise rapidly,” said Thomas Helbling, an Advisor to the IMF’s Research Department and author of the report.
With no end in sight to unrest in the oil-producing Middle East, oil prices climbed above $ 120 a barrel this week for the first time since 2008. Brent crude, a global benchmark oil contract, rose almost $ 8 a barrel over the past five days to $ 122.30 on Wednesday.
The IMF’s research comes as a new Reuters poll of 32 major oil traders predicted on Wednesday that oil prices will soar above $ 130 a barrel by late 2011.
Such an increase is likely to make policymakers worried about inflation just as the global economy is clawing its way back from recession.
The IMF said if tensions between demand and supply factors intensified there could be price spikes rivalling the 2008 run-up that drove oil to nearly $ 150 a barrel.
“The increases in the trend component of oil prices suggest that the global oil market has entered a period of increased scarcity,” the IMF said in initial chapters of its World Economic Outlook report, which will be released in full on Monday.
The IMF said IMF research showed that if increases in oil scarcity are gradual and moderate – which is the most likely scenario – the impact on global economic growth could be small over the medium term.
A large decline in oil supply trend growth of one percentage point – from 1.8 per cent to 0.8 per cent – would slow annual global growth by less than quarter percent in the medium and long term, IMF analysis found.
Current IMF estimates put annual average world gross domestic product growth at about 4.6 per cent between 2011 and 2015.
The IMF ranks China as the largest energy consumer in the world, and the rise in global oil consumption depends on whether the Asian giant maintains its current growth rate.
But the IMF said persistent oil supply shocks were likely to widen current account distortions between oil exporters and importers.
Helbling said the threat to oil supplies meant governments around the world should review whether their current policies will help their economies adjust.
He said oil subsidies could become unsustainable when oil prices climb. The answer was to increase investment in alternative sources of energy.