Geopolitical Unrest and High Oil Prices: A Historical Tale of Stock Market Volatility

Created: 12th October 2023

Before we delve into the intriguing dynamics of high oil prices and their ripple effects on markets, we must acknowledge the sombre realities that often precede such economic turbulence.  

The terrifying conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has seen the tragic loss of thousands of lives with many thousands more injuries. And there is concern that the conflict could escalate across the Middle East.  

We can only hope that a peaceful solution can be reached and further bloodshed avoided.  

Of course, our beat here is financial markets. So, let’s think about the connection between these global events and their impact on the financial world.  

An obvious historical episode to focus on is the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, which some readers may recall.  

The Historical Connection: The 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo  

Back then, the world was shaken by the oil embargo imposed by OPEC in response to the Yom Kippur War and U.S. support for Israel. This geopolitical move triggered an astounding fourfold increase in oil prices within a span of mere months.  

So, you may wonder, how did this turmoil in the oil market lead to stock market mayhem? It’s all about cause and effect.  

The Market Turmoil  

The surge in oil prices sent shockwaves through the stock market. The Dow Jones plunged by nearly 50% over 17 tumultuous months following the oil embargo.  

The reason behind this plunge was the widespread unease in the business world. The soaring energy costs squeezed corporate profits, and this economic strain cast a shadow of doubt over investor sentiment.  

Additionally, inflation became a formidable challenge. The sudden rise in oil prices caused a domino effect, pushing up prices of goods and services, further unsettling investors about the economic outlook.  

We’re all familiar with how soaring inflation in recent years has led to tough times for households and businesses and how central banks raising interest rates has caused market volatility.  

Global Impact  

The 1970s crisis was global, with economies faced soaring inflation, economic instability, and plummeting stock markets.  

Governments and central banks had to use various policies to mitigate the crisis. The United States introduced wage and price controls, while central banks adopted tight monetary policies (raising interest rates) to combat inflation.  

These well-intentioned measures, though, introduced an additional layer of complexity for investors to navigate.  

A Lasting Impact  

The 1973 oil crisis had a far-reaching impact. It prompted a significant shift in energy strategies, inspiring greater investments in alternative energy sources and advocating for energy conservation.  

Governments and central banks learned valuable lessons about the importance of coordinated policy responses during economic crises.  

In conclusion, the historical example of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo underscores the intricate connection between high oil prices, geopolitical unrest, and stock market volatility.  

It serves as a reminder that our financial world is profoundly connected to the global energy landscape. Geopolitical events have the power to send shockwaves through financial markets and trigger stock market turbulence, as demonstrated by this historical lesson.  

This story remains pertinent today, as geopolitical events continue to shape financial markets in our interconnected world.