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Energy and Finance


The energy sector has a major impact on the financial sector and close ties to it.


First, the major oil companies and the leading financial institutions are, in large part, run by the same individuals. A large fraction of the members of the boards of directors of oil companies also sit on the board of directors of the large banks and insurance companies that are the oil companies’ principal shareholders. For example, of Exxon-Mobile’s twelve directors, nine are also directors of financial institutions: JP Morgan-Chase (2 directors in common), Credit Suisse, Goldman-Sachs, Carlyle Group, Travelers, Guaranty Financial and American Express (3 directors in common).


Energy and finance 1Second, energy companies, which are overwhelmingly oil companies by source of income, are a major part of the total value of world stock markets. In the U.S., energy stocks are about one sixth of total market capitalization and they are a similar or larger part of other markets. The pie chart shows the market capitalization (value of all shares) of the main sector of the U.S. stock market.


Third, the huge increase in the price of oil contributed substantially to the simultaneous huge increase in global indebtedness during the same periods. That enormous rise in debt of course led to a great expansion in the financial sector that provided the credit and profited from it. This graph shows the annual increase of total debt (government, corporate and personal) in the U.S. in trillions of dollars per year, discounting inflation.


Energy and finance 2The periods of the most rapid growth in debt in the 1980’s and 2000’s are the same as the periods of high oil prices. The nearly $1 trillion per year paid for increased energy prices during those periods is a large fraction of the $1-$2 trillion in annual new borrowing in the same years.


The global figures, while less detailed, show the same story—during the first decade of the 21st century total world debt climbed by about $5 trillion per year—about as much as the world oil bill at the highest prices that occurred during this period.


Of course the rise in debt is more complicated than this, but it is clear that oil price rises have been a major contributing factor and have benefited the bottom lines of both the oil companies and the leading financial firms. Since the majority of both energy and financial stocks are held by the wealthiest 2% of the population, the oil price increases have also contributed to a substantial transfer of wealth from the 98% to the 2%.