Friday, May 16, 2008

Crude oil demand: India, China, and the USA

Figure 1: Crude oil imports of India, China, and the USA

Crude oil prices have never been higher (Brent sweet crude is trading at about $125 a barrel on the NYMEX as of this post). Part of the reason is attributed to the growing demand from emerging economies like India and China that is putting upward pressure on the price of oil. Alan Greenspan writes in his book that the annual world demand for for crude oil has grown by 1.6% since the late 80s while the production has only grown by 0.8% or so annually. The gap has lead investors to bid up crude oil futures in anticipation of the tightening supply, further driving up prices as the buffer between supply and demand has narrowed significantly.

I downloaded crude oil import data from the UN data website for India, China, and the USA and plotted it (Figure 1). Unsurprisingly, the USA imports far more crude oil than India or China. It is more interesting to note is that the growth in US crude oil imports has been of the same order or steeper than that of India and China. Therefore, demand is being driven higher more by the USA than by India or China.

In his book, Alan Greenspan speaks about the "crude oil intensity" of a nation, defined as its crude oil consumption normalized by its GDP. He states that this number is far higher for China and India than it is for the USA because the latter has shifted to a less oil-intensive service economy in the past few decades. From my perspective, I think that the real crude oil intensity of the USA may be much more than Greenspan computes it to be because of USA's large number of imports from China. For example, a plastic toy imported from China counts the crude oil used to manufacture it and transport it to the USA as crude oil used by China.

It seems clear that the biggest lever to reduce crude oil demand lies in the hands of the USA. India and China are emerging economies eager to lift 100s of millions of people out of poverty. As such, they may not have the political capital to cut back on their increasing (but still small) usage of crude oil. On the other hand, even a small percentage cutback in the USA will reduce demand significantly. Lets hope that the USA moves towards more efficient cars, better public transport systems and away from its suburban driving culture in order to keep crude oil within reach of poorer nations of the World.


1 comment:

Pawankumar Nathani said...

yeah sachin..

I call this as mis-propaganda by US & developed nations.
look around, no one in media talks about facts, they only talk about what is told to them, never ever analysing actual facts..

I have in my blog post put the numbers also.

Pawankumar Nathani