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Why Will Secure Supplies Be Crucial to Economic Growth in the 21st Century?

Since the start of the industrial revolution, energy commodities have been the bedrock of economic development and of the world trading system. Now, with future growth uncertain in many countries around the world, a secure supply of cheap energy commodities is crucial: without it, stalled economies will find it difficult to return to a period of sustained growth. Countries such as whose economies are still growing strongly will also require access to adequate supplies of inexpensive energy commodities, as without these it is unlikely that their economies will continue to expand in the same manner. This would be disastrous for the global economy, as in the short term at least it is these countries that have the potential to power the world back out of recession. It is thus in the interest of all that secure supplies of energy commodities are found to last through to the end of the twenty-first century.

Energy commodities can be split into two main categories: oil and its derivatives, and gas. The former category includes the various types of crude oil (Brent Crude Oil, WTI Crude, etc), as well as derivatives like RBOB Gasoline. The latter category includes natural gas, propane and other similar commodities. Another commodity that fits into neither category is ethanol: although it can be made from petrochemicals, it is more often made from organic materials. Energy commodities are widely used in many areas: as well as transport and heating, they are extensively used in manufacturing, cosmetics, plastics, and a number of other sectors. It is evident then, that any disruption to supply could result in serious consequences for the fragile global economy.

This fragility will be accentuated if present consumption trends continue. In addition to the demand that will continue to exist in developed economies, the continued rapid industrialisation of China, India, and Brazil with their large populations will markedly increase demand for energy-based commodities, as will the industrialisation of second tier developing economies such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

This excess of demand from industrialisation will combine with a number of other factors to threaten the continued stable supply of energy commodities. Advances in technology will place new demands on existing supply (though it is also possible that advances in technology will lead to increasing energy efficiency and changes in energy requirements that will have the effect of lowering demand). It is also likely that energy commodities will come to be used as a geopolitical tool, with nations with large reserves restricting supply on occasion as a means to implement their political will. An example of this is the series of gas disputes between Russia and the Ukraine in the latter half of the last decade.

These threats mean that without new sources being discovered, cheap energy commodities will be in short supply in the twenty-first century. The consequences for nations that do not secure an adequate supply will be drastic: they will be restricted in their ability not just to innovate but to meet the basic needs of their citizens and industries. Economic stagnation and civil unrest will inevitably follow. Given this, it is in the interest of any nation or company to use the commodity markets as early as possible to ensure continued supply of energy commodities.

Ebele Kemery writes about trading energy commodities on the global commodity market and about factors affecting supply, demand and pricing both now and in the future. Ms. Ebele Kemery a Portfolio manager and associated with JPMorgan Investment Management. Ms. Kemery is responsible for formulating our view and investment decisions for major energy commodities including, but not limited to: crude oil, gasoline, heating oil and natural gas.

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