The price of oil has risen quite a bit recently. Crude oil is now around $108. The general consensus is that the price has risen due to the tensions in the Middle East, particularly the threat of war in Iran.
One thing that makes economics difficult is that you can’t look at real life in a vacuum. It is impossible to know for sure if the rise in the price of oil is because of the possibility of an Israeli or American strike on Iran. It is quite possible that the price of oil has gone up in dollar terms because of the previous monetary inflation that took place.
My guess is that it is a combination of the two things. There has been a lot of new money created by the Fed since the fall of 2008. While the bad economy and a lack of bank lending have helped to keep a lid on prices, it is hard to imagine that it wouldn’t have had some effects on prices at this point.
When there is monetary inflation, the new money does not spread out across the economy evenly. Some things may not go up much in price, while other things may go up a lot. The new money finds hot spots. This can be in the stock market, gold, real estate, are any number of other things. It can also go into oil, particularly when there are concerns of a supply interruption.
Even if most of the rise in the price of oil is due to the threat of a war in Iran, the oil market is still telling us that there is a decent chance that there won’t be any significant violence there. While oil has risen in price quite a bit in the last month, it is still just under $110. If the consensus in the market were that a war with Iran were likely, then I think we would see a much higher price.
Many analysts are saying that oil will go to $150 or $200 per barrel if war breaks out. I think this is a very conservative estimate. If Iran is successful in closing the Strait of Hormuz for just a few days, we could easily see the price spike to over $300.
If oil is going up strictly because of the threats of war and an interruption in supply, then other prices should go down. The only way that oil will go up in price along with most other consumer goods is because of monetary inflation. As I have written before, higher oil prices do not cause price inflation.
Time will tell if the oil prices are going up because of the threat of war in Iran or because of monetary inflation. Either way, the higher prices are hurting the average American who is already feeling squeezed.
The ironic thing is that the higher oil prices we see now might reduce the risk of a war with Iran. Obama is starting to feel some heat for the higher gas prices. He has to know that a war with Iran will make gas prices skyrocket. This would be bad for his re-election chances. Therefore, maybe he will hold off on another war and maybe he will encourage the Israeli government to do the same.