From Darfur to Shanghai

Violence in the Sudan, excitement on the Shanghai stock exchange; it's all about China, and oil.

Published October 26, 2007 6:58PM (EDT)

Continuing its relentless march toward the magical summit of $100, the price of a barrel of oil hit an intra-day high of $92.22 on Friday. Meanwhile, in Shanghai, demand for a piece of PetroChina's IPO is so intense that the entire rest of the stock market is being squeezed, say analysts, due to all the funds being directed toward the huge oil company.

PetroChina recently passed General Electric to become the second largest company in the world, as measured by market capitalization, and some observers think it has a shot at unseating the perennial champion, Exxon-Mobil.

But Warren Buffett, sad to say, won't be enjoying any of that bounty. In a rare display of bad market timing, Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holding company sold off its last remaining stake in PetroChina a week ago. Buffett claims that his decision to sell had nothing to do with the Save Darfur disinvestment campaign -- PetroChina's corporate owner, China National Petroleum Co., is heavily involved in Sudanese oil -- and even expressed regret at having sold too soon. But one has to wonder, especially given the latest news from Africa, where rebel forces attacked the Defra oil field on Tuesday.

From Reuters:

Tugud said the Defra attack was meant as a message to China, which JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] accuses of arming the Khartoum government.

"All the weapons we took from the soldiers were Chinese. The Sudan government is using the oil money it gets from China to buy weapons to kill our people," Tugud said.

JEM earlier gave foreign oil companies a week to leave Sudan.

China's interest in African oil has exposed its companies to increasing risk in recent months. Separatist rebels in Ethiopia's remote Somali region killed nine Chinese workers in a raid on an oil installation in April. Chinese oil workers have also been kidnapped in volatile southern Nigeria.

So let's put this all together. The price of oil hits a record high. A Chinese oil company may soon become the largest corporation on the planet. And violence directed against Chinese oil companies in Africa is on a steady rise.

There's really no way this can't get worse. At Econbrowser, U.C. San Diego economist James Hamilton takes a sober look at the current global supply and demand situation for oil.

His one-line summation: "The answer is pretty simple, really -- demand keeps going up but supply doesn't."

But the most interesting data point is this:

Demand for oil from China has continued on its exponential trend, growing more than 8 percent in 2006. Whereas Chinese consumption accounted for 3.4 percent of world demand in 1990, it now represents 8.6 percent. And if Chinese consumption has increased with global production constant, that means oil use by all the rest of us must decrease. For example, U.S. petroleum consumption fell 200,000 barrels a day during 2006. And what persuaded Americans to do that? Higher oil prices.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

China Globalization How The World Works