Friday, April 24, 2009

Did the Oil Price Boom of 2008 Cause Crisis?

This is the question posed by James Hamilton of USC San Diego in a paper for the Brookings Institution. He concludes that

Eventually, the declines in income (due to higher oil prices) and house prices set mortgage delinquency rates beyond a threshold at which the overall solvency of the financial system itself came to be questioned, and the modest recession of 2007:Q4-2008:Q3 turned into a ferocious downturn in 2008:Q4. Whether we would have avoided those events had the economy not gone into recession, or instead would have merely postponed them, is a matter of conjecture. Regardless of how we answer that question, the evidence to me is persuasive that, had there been no oil shock, we would have described the U.S. economy in 2007:Q4-2008:Q3 as growing slowly, but not in a recession. (Causes and Consequences of the Oil Shock of 2007-08)

As Justin Lahart of the Wall Street Journal comments:

A more controversial argument on energy’s role in the credit crunch could go like this. Housing prices kept on climbing, but the Federal Reserve – laboring on the idea that it couldn’t identify bubbles and that even if it could, it shouldn’t pop them — didn’t do anything about them. But then rising oil prices started adding to inflationary pressures, so the Fed kept pushing rates higher, left them high even as housing prices collapsed, and was to slow to lower them when the credit crisis got rolling.

This phenomenon is arguably what took place in Australia with the caveat that we are an oil exporting country. So for non-resource rich states like NSW the parallelism should hold.