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An oil pump is seen at sunset near Reims, France.

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

We’ve heard dire warnings in recent weeks from oil industry analysts and professionals about how already-high oil prices could rise to record levels in the coming months. Goldman Sachs has increased its price forecast for the second half of the year to $135 per barrel. Trading giant Trafigura predicted that prices could rise even higher to over $150 per barrel.

Underpinning these alarms are fears that the war in Ukraine will lead to a big fall in Russian crude production and exports. Ever since Russia invaded its western neighbor, markets have been on alert for signs of acute disruptions that would squeeze crude supplies.

But what if they are looking in the wrong direction? What if the fixation on the risk of a supply shock (losing Russian barrels) is diverting attention from a very real weakening of global demand for oil?

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A worker turns a valve at a Russian oil field near the Ural Mountains.

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted fears of a disruption of oil and gas supplies to Europe, sending prices to new highs. Brent crude futures reached $105 per barrel in the immediate aftermath of the news before falling back; European natural gas prices jumped by as much as 25%.

Coming at a time of already tight supplies, the conflict is bound to maintain upward pressure on prices, unless it becomes clear that Russian exports will not be interrupted. The impact will be felt directly by US consumers and others, and it will contribute further to already-high inflation.

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