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January 08, 2007

Are We Really Less Dependent On Oil?

Austin Goolsbee made a little noise last week, writing in the New York Times that the answer is yes:

... the data shows that much has changed since the wrenching days of the 1970s, for American industry at least. The energy used for each dollar of gross domestic product in 1980 was almost 70 percent greater than it is today. While we have collectively wrung our hands over the decline of manufacturing in the country, it has also reduced the relationship between energy prices and growth.

Greg Mankiw accepts the claim that

... energy prices have a smaller impact today than they did in the past.

... and Mike Moffatt was prompted to muse:

The relationship between the decline of manufacturing in the United States and the reliance on foreign oil is an interesting one.

The facts are the facts on the fairly dramatic increase in energy efficiency in US production, but if there has been a declining impact on economic activity, that looks like a fairly recent development:

   

Energy

   

The shaded bars in that picture are NBER recession dates. You only have to go back a few years -- to the 2001 recession -- to find a significant energy shock looking for all the world like the partner of an economic downturn.  Just like the four recessions that preceded it.

Of course, as I have noted here before, it's possible that the correlation of energy price spikes and recessions in the 70's, 80s, and 90s was just a coincidence. But it's also possible that the run up in energy prices over the past five years has indeed had a significant negative impact on economic activity, despite the fact that the tipping point into recession has not yet arrived.  Let's call the effect of energy shocks on the economy an open question. 

As for a decline in dependence on foreign oil, it hasn't happened.  Here's an updated version of a picture I showed some time ago, capturing energy consumption relative to GDP versus production relative to GDP:

   

Energy_consumption

   

As I wrote in my earlier post:

As we entered the latest series of oil shocks in 2002, energy efficiency -- measured by the quantity of energy usage per inflation-adjusted dollar of GDP -- had fallen significantly from 1970s levels.  Energy dependence -- measured by the gap between consumption and production per unit of GDP -- has, on the other hand, remained remarkably constant.  That says to me we should not be so quick to dismiss analogies with the situation in the 1970s.

The headline to Professor Goolsbee's article was "A Country Less Dependent on Oil is Free to Make Other New Year's Resolutions."  I think maybe we shouldn't change that resolution just yet.

UPDATE: Mark J. Perry and Lynne Kiesling found the Times piece more convincing than I did.

January 8, 2007 in Energy | Permalink

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I have to wonder if there is no mistake in your graph on real oil prices regarding the placing of the early nineteen nineties recession (pre- or post-Gulf war, i can't remember). Because, if there isn't, it would look like the recession preceded the short spike in real oil prices, which would be strange. And then, if there was no graphing mistake, that recession would not count in the counting of episodes, which means you'd be left with only two of those. My (vague) memory is that the recession took place right after the Gulf war in 1991, had actually ended by the time of Clinton's brilliant "the economy, stupid", although we had not realised at the time. Thus you should probably move your shaded area slightly, but not before checking with the NBER, which I obviously haven't done.

Another thing that would be inteesting would be to check prior to 1970. There must have been some fairly brutal movements in real oil prices prior to the second world war. Did Milton Friedman look at those in his monetary history?

Posted by: 4degreesnorth | January 09, 2007 at 02:59 AM

The graph is right, although it is worth pointing out that the energy price I am plotting is the retail price of energy generally, not oil. So some of the timing may look a bit different than what you sometimes see. Nonetheless, it is true that recession starts in March 1990 and the Gulf War doesn't really start until at least August, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. And when the US military response commences in January 1991, the recession is over. So the story is not so neat and clean.

Also, the correlation between energy shocks and economic actvity is not so robust to eyeball econometrics before the 73-75 recession. That said, formal analysis by James Hamilton, for example, does support the notion that the oil price shocks matter. The counter case has been made by Ben Bernanke, as I note in one of the posts linked above.

Posted by: Dave Altig | January 09, 2007 at 06:43 AM

Non-monetary inflation can be stopped.

"People today use the term `inflation' to refer to the phenomenon that is an inevitable consequence of inflation, that is the tendency of all prices and wage rates to rise." Ludwig von Mises - "Inflation: An Unworkable Fiscal Policy".

All prices do not rise. Only the prices of variable real value non-monetary items while many constant real value non-monetary items are not fully updated and many are not updated at all.

The second inevitable consequence of inflation is the tendency of many constant real value non-monetary items NOT to rise at all - during the Historical Cost era while some constant real value non-monetary items are not fully updated.

Inflation today has and always had a second consequence during the 700 year old Historical Cost era.

Inflation has a monetary consequence, called cash inflation refered to above by Ludwig von Mises and defined as the economic process that results in the destruction of real economic value in depreciating money and depreciating monetary values over time as indicated by the change in the Consumer Price Index.

Inflation´s second consequence is a non-monetary consequence defined as Historical Cost Accounting inflation which is always and everywhere the destruction of real economic value in constant real value non-monetary items not fully or never updated (increased) over time due to the use of the Historical Cost Accounting model or any other accounting model which does not allow the continuous updating (increasing) in constant real value non-monetary items in an economy subject to cash inflation.

Inflation´s second consequence is solely caused by the global stable measuring unit assumption.

The stable measuring unit assumption means that we regard the annual destruction of a portion of the real value of our monetary unit by cash inflation in low inflation economies as of not sufficient importance to update the real values of constant real value non-monetary items in our financial statements.

This results in the destruction of at least $31bn in the real value of Dow companies´ Retained Income balances each and every year. Globally this value probably reaches in excess of $200bn per annum for the real value thus destroyed in all companies´ Retained Income balances.

The International Accounting Standards Board recognizes two economic items:

1) Monetary items: money held and "items to be received or paid in money" – in terms of the IASB definition.

2) Non-monetary items: All items that are not monetary items.

Non-monetary items include variable real value non-monetary items valued, for example, at fair value, market value, present value, net realizable value or recoverable value.

Historical Cost items valued at cost in terms of the stable measuring unit assumption are also included in non-monetary items. This makes these HC items, unfortunately, equal to monetary items in the case of companies´ Retained Income balances and the issued share capital values of companies without well located and well maintained land and/or buildings or without other variable real value non-monetary items able to be revalued at least equal to the original real value of each contribution of issued share capital.

The stable measuring unit assumption thus allows the IASB and the Financial Accounting Standards Board to conveniently side-step the split between variable and constant real value non-monetary items. This is a very costly mistake in low cash inflation economies - or 99.9% of the world economy.

Retained Income is a constant real value non-monetary item, but, it has been in the past and is, for now, valued at Historical Cost which makes it, very logically, subject to the destruction of its real value by cash inflation in low inflation economies - just like in cash.

It is an undeniable fact that the functional currency's internal real value is constantly being destroyed by cash inflation in the case of low inflation economies, but this is considered as of not sufficient importance to adjust the real values of constant real value non-monetary items in the financial statements – the universal stable measuring unit assumption which is the cornerstone of the Historical Cost Accounting model.

The combination of the implementation of the stable measuring unit assumption and low inflation is thus indirectly responsible for the destruction of the real value of Retained Income equal to the annual average value of Retained Income times the average annual rate of inflation. This value is easy to calculate in the case of each and very company in the world with Retained Income for any given period.

Everybody agrees that the destruction of the internal real value of the monetary unit of account is a very important matter and that cash inflation thus destroys the real value of all variable real value non-monetary items when they are not valued at fair value, market value, present value, net realizable value or recoverable value.

But, everybody suddenly agrees, in the same breath, that for the purpose of valuing Retained Income – a constant real value non-monetary item – the change in the real value of money is regarded as of not sufficient importance to update the real value of Retained Income in the financial statements. Everybody suddenly then agrees to destroy hundreds of billions of Dollars in real value in all companies´ Retained Income balances all around the world.

Yes, inflation is very important! All central banks and thousands of economists and commentators spend huge amounts of time on the matter. Thousands of books are available on the matter. Financial newspapers and economics journals devote thousands of columns to the discussion of the fight against inflation.

But, when it comes to constant real value non-monetary items:

No sir, inflation is not important! We happily destroy hundreds of billions of Dollars in Retained Income real value year after year after year.

However, when you are operating in an economy with hyperinflation, then we all agree that, yes sir, you have to update everything in terms of International Accounting Standard IAS 29 Financial Reporting in Hyperinflationary Economies: Variable and constant real value non-monetary items.

But ONLY as long as your annual inflation rate has been 26% for three years in a row adding up to 100% - the rate required for the implementation of IAS 29. Once you are not in hyperinflation anymore (for example, Turkey from 2005 onwards), then, with an annual inflation rate anywhere from 2% to 20% for as many years as you want, you are prohibited from updating constant real value non-monetary items. Then you are forced by the FASB´s US GAAP and the IASB´s International Accounting Standards and International Financial Reporting Standards to destroy their value again – at 2% to 20% per annum - as applicable!

For example:

Shareholder value permanently destroyed by the implementation of the Historical Cost Accounting model in Exxon Mobil’s accounting of their Retained Income during 2005 exceeded $4.7bn for the first time. This compares to the $4.5bn shareholder real value permanently destroyed in 2004 in this manner. (Dec 2005 values).

The application by BP, the global energy and petrochemical company, of the stable measuring unit assumption in the accounting of their Retained Income resulted in the destruction of at least $1.3bn of shareholder value during 2005. (Dec 2005 values).

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, a global group of energy and petrochemical companies, permanently destroyed $2.974 billion of shareholder value during 2005 as a result of their implementation of the stable measuring unit assumption in the valuation of their Retained Income. (Dec 2005 values).

Revoking the stable measuring unit assumption is actually allowed this very moment by IAS 29 but ONLY for companies in hyperinflationary economies. At 26% per annum for three years in a row, yes! At any lower rate, no!

It is prohibited by US GAAP and IASB International Standards for companies that are operating in a low inflation economy.

That means the following at this very moment in time: Today all companies in, most probably, only Zimbabwe (1000% inflation) are allowed to update all their variable real value non-monetary items as well as all their constant real value non-monetary items.

But not the rest of the world.

The rest of the world is forced by current US GAAP and IASB International Standards to destroy their/our Retained Income balances each and every year at the rate of inflation because of the implementation of the stable measuring unit assumption whereby we are all forced to regard the change in the value of the unit of account - our low inflation currencies - as of not sufficient importance to update the real values of constant real value non-monetary items in our financial statements.

We are forced to destroy them year after year at the rate of inflation till they will reach zero real value as in the case of Retained Income and the issued share capital values of all companies with no well located and well maintained land and/or buildings at least equal to the original real value of each contribution of issued share capital.

The 30 Dow companies destroy at least $31bn annually in the real value of their Retained Income balances as a result of the implementation of the stable measuring unit assumption. Every single year.

Retained Income can be paid out to shareholders as dividens. Poor Dow company shareholders. They will never see that $31bn of dividens destroyed each and every year.

We have all been doing this for the last 700 years: from around the year 1300 when the double entry accounting model was perfected in Venice.

When we do this at the rate of 2% inflation ("price stability" as per the European Central Bank and as per Mr Trichet, the president of the ECB) we are forced to destroy 51% of the real value of the Retained Income balances in all companies operating in the European Monetary Union over the next 35 years - when that Retained Income remains in the companies for the 35 years - all else except cash inflation being equal.

Each and every one of those 35 years will be classified as a year of "price stability" by the ECB and Mr Trichet. Mr Trichet will not be the president of the ECB in 35 years time.

I think we will do ourselves a great favour by revoking the stable measuring unit assumption as soon as possible.

FREE DOWNLOAD : You can download the book "RealValueAccounting.Com - The next step in our fundamental model of accounting." on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) at http://ssrn.com/abstract=946775

--------------------

Nicolaas J Smith
http://www.realvalueaccounting.com/


Posted by: Nicolaas J Smith | January 10, 2007 at 02:44 AM

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