Are oil exporters the reason behind the global imbalance?
The Economist ran an article that focused on the global imbalance in the world economy. We have been accustomed to hearing about the USA being great spenders and running large deficits and the Chinese being big savers and running large surpluses. However those that have been running even bigger surpluses are the oil exporting countries which have enjoyed a huge windfall from high oil prices – according to the IMF $740bn of which 60% will come from the Middle East. This compares to China’s suprlus of $180bn.
The Economist stated that only a fraction of this oil surplus has gone into official reserves and therefore hasn’t attracted much attention. A lot the money has been put into equities, hedge funds etc through intermediaries in London. The affect of higher oil revenues on the world economy depends on whether the money earned is then spent on buying goods and services from oil importing countries – this maintains demand and the velocity of the circulation of money in the circular flow. In the oil crisis years of 1973 (400% increase) and 1979 (200% increase) 70% of the revenue earned by oil exporting countries was injected back into the circular flow on purchasing goods and services. The IMF estimates that less than 50% will be spent in the three years to 2012. For each dollar spent on oil from OPEC countries in 2011 there was the following spent on the exports from that country:
USA – 34 cents came back into the economy
EU – 80 cents came back into the economy
China – 64 cents came back into the economy
Normally a large current account surplus would be eroded over time by a stronger domestic spending and a higher exchange rate. However the Gulf currencies are pegged or closely linked, to the US$. The best way to reduce the current account surplus of the oil exporting countries is to increase public spending and investment which might reduce dependence on oil revenues and therefore less likely to become part of the resource curse.