Friday, August 26, 2011

How is MENA destabilization affecting global markets for oil, energy, etc.?

QUESTION: With continuing uncertainty in the Middle East – in places like Libya, Syria, and Yemen – how is this destabilization affecting global markets for oil, energy, and other goods and services? What do you think are the important issues that are not being covered in the media?

1  Effects of instability in energy markets

There are two kinds of effects: The easily measurable ones, and the subjective, or irrational, ones.

The first are easy to see. If any of these countries of the table below [1] stop (partly or completely) their oil exports, the effects are, depending of disruption time, going to be more or less close to last column's values:

This is the table for gas [1]:

You can run your models to try to estimate how big will be the final effect in prices, and further run the models to try to ascertain the impact on growth, inflation, employment, etc., making use of the rational expectations principle.

Recent comments by Ms Jean Boivin, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, at the Canadian Association for Business Economics this week [2] explains that rational expectations (in its stronger form) means that we assume that people is very sophisticated: individuals "fully understand how economies and markets work, take into account all the information available, fully appreciate the future consequences of their actions today, and make decisions that are fully consistent with this understanding."

Now, this is just a starting point, the dominant undercurrent of people's actions in economic tasks. Analysts pour over the tables above and other data to try to objectivize behaviors. But there are "perturbations" to the mathematical equations that introduce a distance between the ideal (rational expectations) and the real thing. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to introduce into the models the non-objective part.

So the summary is this: effects will gravitate around the values in the tables above, but there is a volatility in the final values that depends of how fearful are investors, and fear is non-computable.

2  Important issues not being covered in the media

Most issues not covered in the media are, IMHO, due to lack of familiarity with the MENA countries. There is not enough knowledge among investors, policymakers, and citizens of those societies: their culture, their history, who are powerful and why.

So most commentary on the risks of a jihadist takeover, or the lack of attention to countries like Mauritania, ignore basic data about those societies and the interactions in the area.

Data like this, which shows efforts (and their relative weight) to influence North Africa by countries outside the area [3], are not being discussed:


[1]  Michael Ratner & Neelesh Nerurkar: "Middle East and North Africa Unrest: Implications for Oil and Natural Gas Markets." Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2011.

[2]  Jean Boivin: How people think and how it matters. Remarks by Ms Jean Boivin, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, presented to the Canadian Association for Business Economics, Kingston, Ontario, August 23, 2011.

[3]  The Moor Next Door, Oct 17, 2010, > map in section 5 (