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The Inflation Factor: How Rising Food and Energy Prices Impact the Economy

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The Inflation Factor: How Rising Food and Energy Prices Impact the Economy Costs

How Rising Food and Energy Prices Impact the Economy

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the effects of energy supply disruptions are cascading across everything from food prices to electricity to consumer sentiment.

In response to soaring prices, many OECD countries are tapping into their strategic petroleum reserves. In fact, since March, the U.S. has sold a record one million barrels of oil per day from these reserves. This, among other factors, has led gasoline prices to fall more recently—yet deficits could follow into 2023, causing prices to increase.

With data from the World Bank, the above infographic charts energy shocks over the last half century and what this means for the global economy looking ahead.

Energy Price Shocks Since 1979

How does today’s energy price shock compare to previous spikes in real terms?

U.S.$/bbl EquivalentCrude OilNatural GasCoal
2022*$93$170$61
2008$127$100$46
1979$119$72$33

*2022 forecast

As the above table shows, the annual price of crude oil is forecasted to average $93 per barrel equivalent in 2022⁠. By comparison, during the 2008 and 1979 price shocks, crude oil averaged $127 and $119 per barrel, respectively.

What distinguishes the 2022 energy spike is that prices have soared across all fuels. Where price shocks were more or less isolated in the past, many countries such as Germany and the Netherlands are looking to coal to make up for oil supply disruptions. Meanwhile, European natural gas prices have hit record highs.

Food prices have also spiked. Driven by higher input costs across fuel, chemicals, and fertilizer, agriculture commodity prices are forecasted to rise 18% in 2022. Fertilizer prices alone could increase 70% in part due to Russia’s dominance of the global fertilizer market—exporting more than any country worldwide.

What are 3 Ripple Effects of Rising Energy Prices?

Oil feeds into nearly everything, from food to smartphones. In fact, the price of oil influences as much as 64% of food price movements.

How could energy and food shocks affect the world economy in the near future, and why is a lot riding on the price of oil?

1. Rising Global Inflation

In 2022, inflation became a global phenomenon—impacting 100% of advanced countries and 87% of emerging markets and developing economies analyzed by the World Bank.

Countries With Inflation Above Target201920202021Apr 2022
Emerging Markets and Developing Economies20%20%55%87%
Advanced Economies9%8%67%100%

Sample includes 31 emerging markets and developing economies and 12 advanced economies

By contrast, roughly two-thirds of advanced economies and just over half of emerging markets experienced inflation above target in 2021.

This has contributed to tighter monetary conditions. The table below shows how rising inflation in the U.S. has corresponded with interest rate hikes since the 1980s:

DateCore CPI at Beginning of CycleMagnitude of Rate Hikes
Over Course of Tightening Cycle
1979-819.3%9.0 p.p
1983-844.6%3.0 p.p
1986-893.6%4.0 p.p
1994-952.8%3.0 p.p
1999-002.0%1.75 p.p
2004-061.9%4.25 p.p.
2015-192.1%2.25 p.p
2022-236.4%2.75 p.p

2023 is an estimate based on market expectations of the level of the Fed Funds rate in mid-2023. U.S. Core CPI for 2023 based on latest data available.

In many cases, when the U.S. has rapidly tightened monetary policy in response to price pressures, emerging markets and developing economies have experienced financial crises amid higher borrowing costs.

2. Slower Global Growth

Energy price shocks could add greater headwinds to global growth prospects:

Global Growth Scenarios202120222023
Baseline5.7%2.9%3.0%
Including Fed tightening2.6%2.4%
Including Energy price spike2.2%1.6%
Including China COVID-192.1%1.5%

Together, price spikes, hawkish monetary policy, and COVID-19 lockdowns in China could negatively impact global growth.

3. Rising Food Insecurity and Social Unrest

Even before the energy price shock of 2022, global food insecurity was increasing due to COVID-19 and mounting inflationary pressures.

Number of People in Acute Food Insecurity20202021
Sub-Saharan Africa97M119M
Middle East and North Africa30M32M
South Asia16M29M
Latin America and the Caribbean12M13M

Sustained food shortages and high food prices could send millions into acute food insecurity.

In addition, high fuel and food prices are often correlated with mass protests, political violence, and riots. While Sri Lanka and Peru have already begun to see heightened riots, Turkey and Egypt are also at risk for social unrest as the cost of living accelerates and food insecurity worsens.

Global Challenges

Since World War II, oil price shocks have been a major constraint on economic growth. As the war in Ukraine continues, the outlook for today’s energy market is far from clear as a number of geopolitical factors could sway oil price movements and its corresponding effects.

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Energy Shift

What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

As European gas prices soar, countries are introducing policies to try and curb the energy crisis.

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What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

Europe is scrambling to cut its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

As European gas prices soar eight times their 10-year average, countries are introducing policies to curb the impact of rising prices on households and businesses. These include everything from the cost of living subsidies to wholesale price regulation. Overall, funding for such initiatives has reached $276 billion as of August.

With the continent thrown into uncertainty, the above chart shows allocated funding by country in response to the energy crisis.

The Energy Crisis, In Numbers

Using data from Bruegel, the below table reflects spending on national policies, regulation, and subsidies in response to the energy crisis for select European countries between September 2021 and July 2022. All figures in U.S. dollars.

CountryAllocated Funding Percentage of GDPHousehold Energy Spending,
Average Percentage
🇩🇪 Germany$60.2B1.7%9.9%
🇮🇹 Italy$49.5B2.8%10.3%
🇫🇷 France$44.7B1.8%8.5%
🇬🇧 U.K.$37.9B1.4%11.3%
🇪🇸 Spain$27.3B2.3%8.9%
🇦🇹 Austria$9.1B2.3%8.9%
🇵🇱 Poland$7.6B1.3%12.9%
🇬🇷 Greece$6.8B3.7%9.9%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$6.2B0.7%8.6%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic$5.9B2.5%16.1%
🇧🇪 Belgium$4.1B0.8%8.2%
🇷🇴 Romania$3.8B1.6%12.5%
🇱🇹 Lithuania$2.0B3.6%10.0%
🇸🇪 Sweden$1.9B0.4%9.2%
🇫🇮 Finland$1.2B0.5%6.1%
🇸🇰 Slovakia$1.0B1.0%14.0%
🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0B0.2%9.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.8B1.2%11.2%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.8B1.1%n/a
🇭🇷 Croatia$0.6B1.1%14.3%
🇱🇻 Lativia$0.5B1.4%11.6%
🇩🇰 Denmark$0.5B0.1%8.2%
🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.3B0.5%10.4%
🇲🇹 Malta$0.2B1.4%n/a
🇪🇪 Estonia$0.2B0.8%10.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.1B0.7%n/a

Source: Bruegel, IMF. Euro and pound sterling exchange rates to U.S. dollar as of August 25, 2022.

Germany is spending over $60 billion to combat rising energy prices. Key measures include a $300 one-off energy allowance for workers, in addition to $147 million in funding for low-income families. Still, energy costs are forecasted to increase by an additional $500 this year for households.

In Italy, workers and pensioners will receive a $200 cost of living bonus. Additional measures, such as tax credits for industries with high energy usage were introduced, including a $800 million fund for the automotive sector.

With energy bills predicted to increase three-fold over the winter, households in the U.K. will receive a $477 subsidy in the winter to help cover electricity costs.

Meanwhile, many Eastern European countries—whose households spend a higher percentage of their income on energy costs— are spending more on the energy crisis as a percentage of GDP. Greece is spending the highest, at 3.7% of GDP.

Utility Bailouts

Energy crisis spending is also extending to massive utility bailouts.

Uniper, a German utility firm, received $15 billion in support, with the government acquiring a 30% stake in the company. It is one of the largest bailouts in the country’s history. Since the initial bailout, Uniper has requested an additional $4 billion in funding.

Not only that, Wien Energie, Austria’s largest energy company, received a €2 billion line of credit as electricity prices have skyrocketed.

Deepening Crisis

Is this the tip of the iceberg? To offset the impact of high gas prices, European ministers are discussing even more tools throughout September in response to a threatening energy crisis.

To reign in the impact of high gas prices on the price of power, European leaders are considering a price ceiling on Russian gas imports and temporary price caps on gas used for generating electricity, among others.

Price caps on renewables and nuclear were also suggested.

Given the depth of the situation, the chief executive of Shell said that the energy crisis in Europe would extend beyond this winter, if not for several years.

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Real Assets

Visualizing the Rhine River’s Shrinking Water Levels

Water levels on the River Rhine in Germany continue to sink amid severe drought, forcing companies to seek alternatives for the freight on Europe’s second-largest river.

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Visualizing the Rhine River Water Levels Over the Last 20 Years

Water levels on the Rhine river in Germany continue to sink amid severe drought, forcing companies to seek alternatives for the freight they send up and down Europe’s second-largest river.

This graphic uses data from the German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) compiled by Olivier Lejeune to show 20 years of water levels at one notorious shallow point at Kaub, between Mainz and Koblenz.

How Important is the Rhine?

Around 195 million tons of cargo are shipped on German rivers each year—mostly on the Rhine.

Flowing from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, the Rhine links German and Swiss industries with the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port. Its role in the continent’s economy traces back to the Roman Empire and early medieval trade.

The Rhine river is an important shipping route for many products like coal, gasoline, heating oil, chemicals, car parts, food, and thousands of other goods. However, when water levels drop, cargo vessels need to sail with a reduced load, so they don’t run aground.

Rhine Water Levels at Kaub

Date💧 Lowest water level (cm)
9/20/2002153
9/28/200335
12/17/200494
12/3/200558
2/15/200658
11/7/200789
10/16/2008115
10/5/2009 55
11/6/2010122
11/30/201148
8/21/2012 118
9/7/2013113
6/25/2014111
11/14/201554
12/31/2016122
1/9/201751
10/22/2018 25
9/23/201999
9/23/202078
11/1/202172
8/15/202232

In 2018, the Rhine waterway was shut for goods transport for a total of 132 days due to severe drought.

Due to an unusually hot and dry summer in Europe, the low water levels are emerging earlier than usual, with the lowest water levels typically recorded in September or October. Water levels at the chokepoint of Kaub, near Frankfurt, fell to 32 cm in depth on Monday, August 15, 2022.

The European Space Agency captured part of the Rhine River near Cologne – showing the stark difference between August 2021 and August 2022.

rhine river divided ok

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission captured part of the Rhine River near Cologne—showing the stark difference between August 2021 and August 2022.

The low water levels are adding to Europe’s energy crisis, sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Barge rates to ship fuel from Rotterdam to Basel, Switzerland, are near an all-time high. The closure of the Rhine could disrupt 400,000 barrels a day of oil-product trade.

The Impact of Climate Change

Effects of climate change are modifying the discharge pattern of the Rhine and its tributaries, according to the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine.

Periods with floods or low flow are expected to become more frequent and more distinct. Floods may be higher and last longer. In addition to navigation issues, the low flow may affect water supply and the quality of groundwater.

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