Global Investing

Using terrorism to gauge oil’s impact

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Do oil price spikes cause recessions? It is a controversial question and one that is very much a propos. It is all very chicken-and-egg, of course. If oil is soaring because of overheating economic demand, is it the demand or the ensuing rise in oil prices that causes the crash?

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Britain’s Centre for Economic Policy Research has had a go at trying to answer this with a report written by Natalie Chen and Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and Liam Graham from University College London. The twist was that the academics used terrorist incidents as an instrumental variable. Roughly, they looked at the impact of a sharp rise in oil prices on the profitability of various industries. By using terrorist events, they stripped out macroeconomic drivers and focused on something that was separate from the business cycle.

 

The researchers say their findings are not definitive but that they “lend” support to the claim that oil-price spikes can be a source of recessions. They urge caution, however, in the absence of study on the impact of microeconomic mechanisms linking oil to recessions. That may be the key to unravelling the oil-macroeconomy relationship, they conclude.

 

Is there a gadget to avoid recession?

apple.jpgSome investors reckon the U.S. economy is in recession and undergoing a W-shaped pattern of growth — that is decline, temporary recovery, decline again, then rebound.

Fortis Investments is one such believer and is telling its clients that they are currently in the second down phase. That implies a rebound is coming, but Fortis is not ready to say when. Not anytime soon, is all it suggests.

One quick gauge of a country’s economy, meanwhile, is to drop into a popular shopping area and see what people are doing. Purely subjectively, a visit last week to two malls in the United States — in Maryland and Virginia — suggested things are pretty bad.