As you meander -- or perhaps jog -- through your daily existence, it may appear that the world's scene is relatively tranquil, especially by the standards of the Cold War years. But appearances can be deceiving, and the incessant thrusting and parrying of nations deserves at least a portion of your attention, given their ability to affect your investments, the prices you pay for gasoline at the pump, and perhaps your very lifestyle.
As we enter the last week of March, there are all sorts of evident international strains, and while I can't tell you the geopolitical risk premium that's currently manifested in the price of a barrel of oil, I can assure you that a premium is factored into the trading value of crude and that it appears to be steadily increasing. Over the weekend, for instance, Venezuela announced that it was working on a host of energy deals with China, the key objective of which would be a reduction in the South American nation's dependence on oil exports to the United States.
"The United States as a power is on the way down," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was quoted as saying in Caracas, "and China is on the way up. China is the market of the future." Venezuela is the second-largest importer of crude into the U.S., and while Venezuelan-Chinese deals are fine, Chavez's escalating antipathy to the U.S. could eventually have a negative effect on the crude supply-demand balance in our hemisphere. Chavez is also in the process of nationalizing his country's oil industry and evicting major producers ExxonMobil
Across the world, Iran, OPEC's second-largest crude exporter, continues to act in a progressively more menacing way. It is currently holding and questioning 15 detained British sailors and marines that it scooped up Friday from what U.S. and British authorities claim were Iraqi waters, but which the captors maintain was Iranian territorial waters.
At the same time, the presidents of Russia and China have called upon Iran to adhere to U.N. Security Council resolutions related to its disputed nuclear program. That urging follows a United Nations vote Saturday that imposed new sanctions on Iran. Following the vote, Iran rejected the sanctions and said that it would partially suspend its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
You may have noticed that the bias of crude prices over the past several weeks has been decidedly upward. I believe strongly that the sort of instability I've described to you has had a major effect on driving that slow, steady upward price march. Couple that geopolitical instability with the attendant need to locate and produce vast new quantities of crude oil in just the next couple of decades -- while simultaneously attempting to shore up declining production in many key energy horizons -- and you can see why I continue to believe that Fools should be highly attentive to the energy sector, both now and for years to come.
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