The oil price is at the top of a slippery slope

“The big story” in the markets this year has been the sharp jump in oil prices, says The Observer. Brent crude futures jumped to a new four-year high of $80 a barrel last week as new US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, which would reduce supply further, appeared imminent. But if prices keep going up, “the big story of 2019 is going to be how oil came down to earth with a bump”.

“One of the bull case’s green lights that may soon start flashing amber is, now, demand,” says the Financial Times. High prices always begin to temper the world’s appetite for oil at some stage, thus ultimately begetting lower prices. That stage is now upon us. US petrol prices have jumped by about a fifth this year to $2.90 a gallon.

Consumers in emerging markets will also feel squeezed. Many developing countries cut or abolished fuel subsidies during the oil-price slump three years ago. “These centres of consumption growth [are] likely to feel higher oil prices more keenly this time.”

“With Trump in the White House, anything could happen,” says The Observer. But provided we avoid a “geopolitical shock”, oil supplies should gradually rise as US shale drillers boost output, while members of oil-cartel Opec will be unable to resist the temptation to exceed production quotas to make up for any Iranian shortfall and bolster revenues. Sooner or later, oil prices will subside.