Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Climate Change Mass Extinction - Birds, Bees and Bugs: Going Going Gone - Richard_Mills
2.A Purrrfect Gold Price Setup! - Peter_Degraaf
3.Who Finances America's Borrowing? Recession Indicator for Independent Thinkers Part 2 - F_F_Wiley
4.America’s One-sided Domestic Financial War - Raymond_Matison
5.Gold Price Summer Doldrums - Zeal_LLC
6.Two Key Events Will Unleash Gold - Jim_Willie_CB
7.Billionaire Schools Teacher in NAFTA Trade Talks - Richard_Mills
8.Get Out Of Crypto Cannabis Bubble Before It Pops and Move Into Bargain Basement Miners - Jeb_Handwerger
9.Stock Market Could Pullback for 1-2 weeks, But Medium Term Bullish - Troy_Bombardia
10.G7 Chaos, Central Banks and US Fed Will Drive Stock Prices This Week - Chris_Vermeulen
Last 7 days
How Crazy It Is to Short Gold with RSI Close to 30 - 16th Jul 18
Markets Pay Attention Moment - China’s Bubble Economy Ripe for Bursting - 16th Jul 18
Stock Market Uptrend Continues, But... - 16th Jul 18
Emerging Markets Could Be Starting A Relief Rally - 16th Jul 18
(Only) a Near-term Stock Market Top? - 16th Jul 18
Trump Fee-Fi-Foe-Fum Declares European Union America's Enemy! - 16th Jul 18
US Stocks Set For Further Advances As Q2 Earnings Start - 15th Jul 18
Stock Market vs. Gold, Long-term Treasury Yields, 10yr-2yr Yield Curve 3 Amigo's Update - 15th Jul 18
China vs the US - The Road to War - 14th Jul 18
Uncle Sam’s Debt-Money System Is Immoral, Tantamount to Theft - 14th Jul 18
Staying in a Caravan - UK Summer Holidays 2018 - Cayton Bay Hoseasons Holiday Park - 14th Jul 18
Gold Stocks Summer Lows - 14th Jul 18
Trump US Trade War With China, Europe Consequences, Implications and Forecasts - 13th Jul 18
Gold Standard Requirements & Currency Crisis - 13th Jul 18
Focus on the Greenback, Will USD Fall Below Euro 1.6? - 13th Jul 18
Stock Market Outlook 2018 - Bullish or Bearish - 13th Jul 18
Rising Inflation is Not Bearish for Stocks - 13th Jul 18
Bitcoin Picture Less Than Pretty - 13th Jul 18
How International Observers Undervalue the Chinese Bond Market - 13th Jul 18
Stocks Trying to Break Higher Again, Will They? - 12th Jul 18
The Rise and Fall of Global Trade – Redux - 12th Jul 18
Corporate Earnings Q2 2018 Will Probably be Strong. What This Means for Stocks - 12th Jul 18
Is the Relative Strength in Gold Miners to Gold Price Significant? - 12th Jul 18
Live Cattle Commodity Trading Analysis - 12th Jul 18
Gold’s & Silver’s Reversals’ Reversal - 12th Jul 18
The Value of Bitcoin - 11th Jul 18
America a Nation Built on Lies - 11th Jul 18
China, Asia and Emerging Markets Could Result In Chaos - 11th Jul 18
Bullish Gold Markets in the Big Picture? - 11th Jul 18
A Public Bank for Los Angeles? City Council Puts It to the Voters - 11th Jul 18
Yield Curve Inversion a Remarkably Accurate Warning Indicator For Economic & Market Peril - 11th Jul 18
Argentina Should Scrap the Peso and Dollarize - 11th Jul 18
Can the Stock Market Close Higher For a Record 10th Year in a Row? - 11th Jul 18
Why Life Insurance Is A Must In Financial Planning - 9th Jul 18
Crude Oil Possibly Setting Up For A Big Downside Move - 9th Jul 18
BREAKING: New Tech Just Unlocked A Trillion Barrels Of Oil - 9th Jul 18
How Trade Wars Penalize Asian Currencies - 9th Jul 18
Another Stock Market Drop Next Week? - 9th Jul 18
Are the Stock Market Bulls Starting to Run? - 9th Jul 18

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

5 "Tells" that the Stock Markets Are About to Reverse

Japan, the Persian Gulf and Energy

Politics / Crude Oil Mar 16, 2011 - 02:06 AM GMT

By: STRATFOR

Politics Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleOver the past week, everything seemed to converge on energy. The unrest in the Persian Gulf raised the specter of the disruption of oil supplies to the rest of the world, and an earthquake in Japan knocked out a string of nuclear reactors with potentially devastating effect. Japan depends on nuclear energy and it depends on the Persian Gulf, which is where it gets most of its oil. It was, therefore, a profoundly bad week for Japan, not only because of the extensive damage and human suffering but also because Japan was being shown that it can’t readily escape the realities of geography.


Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a bit behind China now. It is also the third-largest industrial economy, behind only the United States and China. Japan’s problem is that its enormous industrial plant is built in a country almost totally devoid of mineral resources. It must import virtually all of the metals and energy that it uses to manufacture industrial products. It maintains stockpiles, but should those stockpiles be depleted and no new imports arrive, Japan stops being an industrial power.

The Geography of Oil

There are multiple sources for many of the metals Japan imports, so that if supplies stop flowing from one place it can get them from other places. The geography of oil is more limited. In order to access the amount of oil Japan needs, the only place to get it is the Persian Gulf. There are other places to get some of what Japan needs, but it cannot do without the Persian Gulf for its oil.

This past week, we saw that this was a potentially vulnerable source. The unrest that swept the western littoral of the Arabian Peninsula and the ongoing tension between the Saudis and Iranians, as well as the tension between Iran and the United States, raised the possibility of disruptions. The geography of the Persian Gulf is extraordinary. It is a narrow body of water opening into a narrow channel through the Strait of Hormuz. Any diminution of the flow from any source in the region, let alone the complete closure of the Strait of Hormuz, would have profound implications for the global economy.

For Japan it could mean more than higher prices. It could mean being unable to secure the amount of oil needed at any price. The movement of tankers, the limits on port facilities and long-term contracts that commit oil to other places could make it impossible for Japan to physically secure the oil it needs to run its industrial plant. On an extended basis, this would draw down reserves and constrain Japan’s economy dramatically. And, obviously, when the world’s third-largest industrial plant drastically slows, the impact on the global supply chain is both dramatic and complex.

In 1973, the Arab countries imposed an oil embargo on the world. Japan, entirely dependent on imported oil, was hit not only by high prices but also by the fact that it could not obtain enough fuel to keep going. While the embargo lasted only five months, the oil shock, as the Japanese called it, threatened Japan’s industrial capability and shocked it into remembering its vulnerability. Japan relied on the United States to guarantee its oil supplies. The realization that the United States couldn’t guarantee those supplies created a political crisis parallel to the economic one. It is one reason the Japanese are hypersensitive to events in the Persian Gulf and to the security of the supply lines running out of the region.

Regardless of other supplies, Japan will always import nearly 100 percent of its oil from other countries. If it cuts its consumption by 90 percent, it still imports nearly 100 percent of its oil. And to the extent that the Japanese economy requires oil — which it does — it is highly vulnerable to events in the Persian Gulf.

It is to mitigate the risk of oil dependency — which cannot be eliminated altogether by any means — that Japan employs two alternative fuels: It is the world’s largest importer of seaborne coal, and it has become the third-largest producer of electricity from nuclear reactors, ranking after the United States and France in total amount produced. One-third of its electricity production comes from nuclear power plants. Nuclear power was critical to both Japan’s industrial and national security strategy. It did not make Japan self-sufficient, since it needed to import coal and nuclear fuel, but access to these resources made it dependent on countries like Australia, which does not have choke points like Hormuz.

It is in this context that we need to understand the Japanese prime minister’s statement that Japan was facing its worst crisis since World War II. First, the earthquake and the resulting damage to several of Japan’s nuclear reactors created a long-term regional energy shortage in Japan that, along with the other damage caused by the earthquake, would certainly affect the economy. But the events in the Persian Gulf also raised the 1973 nightmare scenario for the Japanese. Depending how events evolved, the Japanese pipeline from the Persian Gulf could be threatened in a way that it had not been since 1973. Combined with the failure of several nuclear reactors, the Japanese economy is at risk.

The comparison with World War II was apt since it also began, in a way, with an energy crisis. The Japanese had invaded China, and after the fall of the Netherlands (which controlled today’s Indonesia) and France (which controlled Indochina), Japan was concerned about agreements with France and the Netherlands continuing to be honored. Indochina supplied Japan with tin and rubber, among other raw materials. The Netherlands East Indies supplied oil. When the Japanese invaded Indochina, the United States both cut off oil shipments from the United States and started buying up oil from the Netherlands East Indies to keep Japan from getting it. The Japanese were faced with the collapse of their economy or war with the United States. They chose Pearl Harbor.

Today’s situation is in no way comparable to what happened in 1941 except for the core geopolitical reality. Japan is dependent on imports of raw materials and particularly oil. Anything that interferes with the flow of oil creates a crisis in Japan. Anything that risks a cutoff makes Japan uneasy. Add an earthquake destroying part of its energy-producing plant and you force Japan into a profound internal crisis. However, it is essential to understand what energy has meant to Japan historically — miscalculation about it led to national disaster and access to it remains Japan’s psychological as well as physical pivot.

Japan’s Nuclear Safety Net

Japan is still struggling with the consequences of its economic meltdown in the early 1990s. Rapid growth with low rates of return on capital created a massive financial crisis. Rather than allow a recession to force a wave of bankruptcies and unemployment, the Japanese sought to maintain their tradition of lifetime employment. To do that Japan had to keep interest rates extremely low and accept little or no economic growth. It achieved its goal, relatively low unemployment, but at the cost of a large debt burden and a long-term sluggish economy.

The Japanese were beginning to struggle with the question of what would come after a generation of economic stagnation and full employment. They had clearly not yet defined a path, although there was some recognition that a generation’s economic reality could not sustain itself. The changes that Japan would face were going to be wrenching, and even under the best of circumstances, they would be politically difficult to manage. Suddenly, Japan is not facing the best of circumstances.

It is not yet clear how devastating the nuclear-reactor damage will prove to be, but the situation appears to be worsening. What is clear is that the potential crisis in the Persian Gulf, the loss of nuclear reactors and the rising radiation levels will undermine the confidence of the Japanese. Beyond the human toll, these reactors were Japan’s hedge against an unpredictable world. They gave it control of a substantial amount of its energy production. Even if the Japanese still had to import coal and oil, there at least a part of their energy structure was largely under their own control and secure. Japan’s nuclear power sector seemed invulnerable, which no other part of its energy infrastructure was. For Japan, a country that went to war with the United States over energy in 1941 and was devastated as a result, this was no small thing. Japan had a safety net.

The safety net was psychological as much as anything. The destruction of a series of nuclear reactors not only creates energy shortages and fear of radiation; it also drives home the profound and very real vulnerability underlying all of Japan’s success. Japan does not control the source of its oil, it does not control the sea lanes over which coal and other minerals travel, and it cannot be certain that its nuclear reactors will not suddenly be destroyed. To the extent that economics and politics are psychological, this is a huge blow. Japan lives in constant danger, both from nature and from geopolitics. What the earthquake drove home was just how profound and how dangerous Japan’s world is. It is difficult to imagine another industrial economy as inherently insecure as Japan’s. The earthquake will impose many economic constraints on Japan that will significantly complicate its emergence from its post-boom economy, but one important question is the impact on the political system. Since World War II, Japan has coped with its vulnerability by avoiding international entanglements and relying on its relationship with the United States. It sometimes wondered whether the United States, with its sometimes-unpredictable military operations, was more of a danger than a guarantor, but its policy remained intact.

It is not the loss of the reactors that will shake Japan the most but the loss of the certainty that the reactors were their path to some degree of safety, along with the added burden on the economy. The question is how the political system will respond. In dealing with the Persian Gulf, will Japan continue to follow the American lead or will it decide to take a greater degree of control and follow its own path? The likelihood is that a shaken self-confidence will make Japan more cautious and even more vulnerable. But it is interesting to look at Japanese history and realize that sometimes, and not always predictably, Japan takes insecurity as a goad to self-assertion.

This was no ordinary earthquake in magnitude or in the potential impact on Japan’s view of the world. The earthquake shook a lot of pieces loose, not the least of which were in the Japanese psyche. Japan has tried to convince itself that it had provided a measure of security with nuclear plants and an alliance with the United States. Given the earthquake and situation in the Persian Gulf, recalculation is in order. But Japan is a country that has avoided recalculation for a long time. The question now is whether the extraordinary vulnerability exposed by the quake will be powerful enough to shake Japan into recalculating its long-standing political system.

By George Friedman

This analysis was just a fraction of what our Members enjoy, Click Here to start your Free Membership Trial Today! "This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR"

© Copyright 2011 Stratfor. All rights reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis.

STRATFOR Archive

© 2005-2018 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules