In its October 1999 World Economic Outlook, the IMF assumed that oil prices would be $18 per barrel in 2000. In reality, oil prices will probably average closer to $30 than to $20 a barrel this year. As oil prices have continued to rise above expectation, analysts have scrambled to find explanations. This note outlines some of the developments that have led to persistently high oil prices over the past two years. The author compares the current situation with that prevailing at the time of previous oil shocks and outlines some of the difficulties entailed in measuring the impact of sharp oil price increases on U.S. inflation and output.
The author concludes that increased energy efficiency, robust economic conditions, enhanced central bank credibility, and stable inflation expectations both here and abroad are likely to make the impact of recent energy price increases on the U.S. economy more muted and manageable than in previous oil shocks. Indeed, she writes, the current episode suggests that one of the rewards for establishing a low-inflation environment may be an improved ability to weather moderate supply shocks. Still, she points out, it's not too soon to hope for an early spring.