Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear impact

I'm not going to comment on the nuclear crisis in Japan because it is a very emotional topic. However, I will make a more oblique statement on the economic impact of the crisis that seems counter-intuitive. When the earthquake first hit Japan, oil prices took a quick dive. The inclination was that if the 3rd largest oil importing nation in the world has suffered a catastrophic natural disaster, their demand for oil will plummet, and so, in turn, will the global demand for oil, thus driving prices down. This seemed a bit shortsighted to me at first given that Japan has never been a society to stand idly by and lay down to adversity. They rise up stoically against the challenge. When Japan cleans up and rises out of this disaster their demand for oil may be even more voracious than before given the massive reconstruction effort that will inevitably ensue.

Then the nuclear crisis began to unfold and now there will be a new potential upward demand pressure on oil. If public fear is allowed to rule the day and the nuclear industry experiences another downward spiral of construction and productivity, the ambitious plans of Japan to provide 50% of their electricity needs with nuclear generation will be thwarted, regardless of how appropriate or not they may have been. Thus, a nation with absolutely no natural hydrocarbon resources at its disposal will be even more reliant on imported oil than it was before the earthquake. If the fear reverberates around the global nuclear industry and stops expansion plans in countries as diverse as Germany and China, many of which made those plans because they have few available hydrocarbon resources, the global oil demand will only increase.

Call me crazy, but I'm predicting $200 a barrel oil before my oldest is in high school.

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