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The Real Reason the U.S. Economy Won’t Take Off

If you want evidence that the U.S. economy is rebounding, forget analyzing common economic indicators like home sales, retail sales, consumer confidence and manufacturing data. Economists and individuals need to track just one key measure of data: oil consumption. That’s the thesis of Chris Martenson, author of PeakProsperity.com and the “Crash Course” Series. Martenson says oil has always been very tightly associated with economic growth. Oil prices have not returned to their 2008 all-time highs and that’s not necessarily a good thing, he argues.

“If you want to have economic growth you’re going to need growth in oil consumption,” he says in an interview at the 2013 Wine Country Conference in Sonoma benefiting the Les Turner ALS Foundation. “Oil is the lifeblood of any economy.”

More demand for oil from businesses and consumers will drive up prices, which is symbolic of a healthy economy. Martenson points out that oil consumption in the U.S., Japan and Europe peaked in 2007 and has tapered off over the last few years. The decline reflects the slow growth and budgetary crises in these countries more so than the increase in fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, Martenson says.

Oil companies have been pumping nearly the same amount of oil out of the ground since 2005 even though investment in oil production has doubled from $300 billion to $600 billion worldwide, according to Martenson. In 2012 U.S. oil production rose by 790,000 barrels per day, the largest annual increase since 1859. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that domestic oil production will rise to 815,000 barrels a day in 2012, a new record.

Related: Natural Gas Boom Could Make U.S. Energy Self-Sufficient: BBVA’s Karp

Oil consumption in the rest of the world has been steadily rising as fast-growing economies like China, Brazil and India demand more oil than the U.S., Japan and Europe combined.

Martenson says he closely monitors weekly oil data for any upticks in U.S. oil consumption. Oil consumption has a direct correlation to GDP: “without growth in oil consumption, GDP growth doesn’t advance," Martenson explains.

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2012. In the third quarter GDP increased 3.1%.

Brent crude oil was trading above $105 a barrel on Tuesday. U.S. oil prices hit an eight-month low last Friday.

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