How Will US Consumers Cope With $100 Oil?

Oil prices will need to rise another 50-60 percent before energy costs put a squeeze on consumers with the same impact as 2008, according to the fixed income team at Credit Suisse.

"'Manageable' is the word that springs to mind, so long as real instability does not roll on to the bigger oil suppliers in the region," Credit Suisse said in a report.

An international oil tanker passes through the Suez canal in Ismailia, Egypt.
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An international oil tanker passes through the Suez canal in Ismailia, Egypt.

"Manageable is also the bottom line in terms of the impact on US consumers' disposable income from the rise in energy costs so far: January's payroll tax holiday is about three times as large as the drain from higher gasoline prices to date," the Swiss bank's analysts wrote.

The problem of higher oil could also be offset by further help from the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke, according to the report.

"Our economist's view is that Mr. Bernanke will probably make it clear in next week's Humphrey Hawkins Testimony that any new threat to the recovery will only confirm his determination to keep rates low for an extended period," they wrote.

Will the Revolt Spread?

It will take time to understand the full implications of the current crisis but the following few months will be volatile, the Credit Suisse analysts warned.

"Foreign policy realists could be gnashing their teeth, liberals celebrating (nervously) and some of the real radicals could be whooping for joy. Still, in this modern day 'Springtime of the Peoples,' it is striking to us how little of an Islamic revolution this has been."

"It is, therefore, possible that the vast, underemployed and largely disenfranchised youth bulge in the Middle East and North Africa crescent can hope to alter the arc of history. One by one, they may force or provoke genuine reform that gives some form of democracy and more modern, liberal economies the chance to evolve," they wrote.

The market is focusing on the chances of major negatives hitting investor sentiment but OPEC's excess supply and lower demand in the spring from the US and Europe will help offset the loss of Libyan supply, according to Credit Suisse analysts.

"All oil exports from Libya seem to have stopped, but little major disruption to supplies from elsewhere has yet occurred. For a period, and with a shortish lag, there are ample existing inventories, official stockpiles and OPEC spare capacity to offset that shock," they wrote.