Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is three months a trend?

Yesterday the Department of Statistics released its monthly overseas merchandise trade figures, showing the usual soaring trade deficit. This produced the usual press release from the Greens about the price of oil dependency. But while it's a point worth making, it's also missed something significant: oil imports appear to be decreasing.

I've been watching this for the past two months, ever since a mention on Larvatus Prodeo about a substantial drop in Australian fuel imports. Here's the long-term trend:

(Source: Department of Statistics, Overseas Merchandise Trade: June 2008, Table 9 [XLS])

There's obviously a lot of variability in there, but there may also be a trend: the average for the last three months (290 kT/month) is 10% lower than the long-term average (333 kT/month), and 20% lower than the equivalent period last year (365 kT/month). Some of this may be due to higher imports at the beginning of the year, but we may also be seeing high prices beginning to have an impact.

OTOH, a word of caution: while crude oil imports seem to have dropped, domestic production of petrol and diesel (which is where the oil ultimately goes) doesn't seem to have dropped at all. So, maybe we're just seeing the oil companies running down their stockpiles while waiting for prices to drop. I guess we'll just have to wait for another few months figures to find out.