The global economy is entering a period when demand for oil will outstrip supply, laying the ground for price spikes, the IMF said Thursday.
"There is a risk that the tensions between demand and supply trends could intensify again and prices could rise rapidly," said Thomas Helbling, an adviser to the IMF's Research Department.
In newly released analysis by the International Monetary Fund, the institution said if tensions between demand and supply factors intensified there could be price spikes rivaling the 2008 run-up that drove oil to nearly $150 a barrel.
"The increases in the trend component of oil prices suggest that the global oil market has entered a period of increased scarcity," the IMF said in initial chapters of its World Economic Outlook report, which will be released in full on Monday.
Brent crude, a global benchmark oil contract, has risen almost $8 a barrel over the past five days to $122.30 on Wednesday. The price climbed above $120 a barrel this week for the first time since 2008, with no end in sight to unrest in the oil-producing Middle East and North Africa.
The IMF said scarcer oil supplies would not have a major impact on global economic growth over the medium term. The IMF estimates annual average world gross domestic product growth was about 4.6 percent between 2011 to 2015.
The IMF ranks China as the largest energy consumer in the world, and the rise in global oil consumption depends on whether the Asian giant maintains its current growth rate.
Helbling said IMF research showed that if increases in oil scarcity are gradual and moderate — which is the most likely scenario — the impact on global economic growth could be small.
A 1 percentage point decline in oil supply trend growth rate would lower global growth by less than 1/4 percent over the medium and longer term, IMF research found.
Helbling said governments should review whether their current policies can help their economies to adjust to sudden drops in oil supply.
For example, oil subsidies could become unsustainable when oil prices climb while investments in alternative sources of energy should increase.
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