Why High Oil Prices May Not Matter for Stocks

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You don’t need me to tell you that oil and gas prices are through the roof these days.

Gas stations are changing numbers faster than slot machines. And the explosion in prices is sowing fear in the stock market.

But I think this huge spike in oil prices won’t matter much for stocks in the long term.

Looking at some historical data today, I noticed that big advances in oil prices are actually associated with above average returns for stocks.

Let’s look back at some major oil price spikes and see what happened to stocks.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Our first stop takes us back to the late nineties. That was the last time I saw gas under a dollar!

Indeed, oil was a mere $12.36 a barrel in February of 1999. Just one year later, it had shot up to $28.28, a 128% increase.

Surely a stock market crash was next, right?

Wrong. Stocks increased 11% that year, an above average return.

Our next stop takes us to the depths of the financial crisis. At the beginning of 2009, oil traded for $46.17.

By April of 2011, the price had jumped to $107.55, an advance of 133%.

Market meltdown? Hardly.

Stocks surged 48% as the economy rose again from the ashes.

Why would stocks go up even as oil, a major cost center, rises?

Both are responding to an improving economy. Stronger economic growth means better prospects for companies, raising stock prices.

A stronger economy also means more demand for oil as families go on vacations again and buy bigger and shinier SUV’s. That increases oil prices.

Indeed, you’ll notice that during periods of increasing oil prices, economic growth also increased rapidly:

What About Today?

In April 2020, oil prices stood at just $20.28 a barrel, the lowest in over 20 years. Today, West Texas Intermediate oil has increased to $119.26 a barrel, a staggering 488%.

Sure enough, a similarly massive upshift in economic growth happened during that time. US GDP went from falling 31% year over year to growing 34% year over year, as lockdowns were implemented and then lifted.

Since lockdowns began to ease in later 2020, economic growth has remained strong, routinely clocking around 7%.

That roller coaster for growth resulted in a roller coaster for oil prices as well. We shouldn’t be unduly alarmed that oil is recovering along with the economy as a whole.

While geopolitical events have contributed to higher prices this year, you’ll note that most of the increase in oil prices happened well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

High prices or no, I’ll be holding my stocks.

More on markets:

How Did High Dividend Stocks Perform In the Last Crash?

FBI Raids Short Sellers

Is Russia’s Google Finished?

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Photo: “Gas Prices. WTF?” by kristiewells is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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