Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leading Edge Oil Demand Data

Is 2009 OECD oil demand destruction like 1974, when efficiency didn't stick, or the early 1980s, when efficiency almost bankrupted the oil industry? I have a much more detailed theory as to which version it is - which I will post at a later date. For now, let's dig into some data.

OECD oil demand growth is being written off by most oil analysts for the next few years. OECD demand growth is probably the most significant known unknown in the oil market. Early data indicates that we may be seeing signs of permanent OECD oil consumption efficiency. Given the huge numbers involved in OECD oil demand, it is worth teasing any data out for signs of how this efficiency is progressing and if it is lasting.

Automobile sales in the US are recovering (chart 1). The October sales numbers were at an annualized rate of 10.45 million units, up from 9.2 in September and 14.09 in August. The August number was prematurely high due to the cash for clunkers program which took place mostly in that month.

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Now that the data dust of the cash for clunkers program has settled it is becoming clear that the mix between cars and SUVs/light truck sales is changing (chart 2). A higher share of car sales rather than heavier vehicles would tend to indicate that sticky changes in efficiency are occurring. Oil analysts factor these shifts into long term vehicles on the road when modeling oil demand. I speculated last month that the August cash for clunkers program had the effect of being a giant advertising program for efficient vehicles and would kick off this efficiency move.

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What is interesting as an economic sidenote, but not so much for oil demand, is that US domestically produced automobiles appear to be gaining some ground (chart 3). Perhaps this is due to the weakness of the US dollar which makes imported vehicles more expensive as well as the recent report in an influential consumer survey of some US auto makers' vehicle quality improving.

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