Submitted by Jay Bajpai,

The 40% drop in oil prices over the past 6 months has garnered a lot of attention recently, most of it focused on the economic stimulus lower oil prices should provide the global economy, the impact on currency and fixed-income markets and the increase in economic pain suffered by exporters such as Iran and Russia. In this article, I draw on historical data to assess the potential increase in geopolitical tail risk that lower oil prices may represent. I believe this is an overlooked consequence of lower oil prices that, while low probability, would have an outsize impact on the global economy – a classic "fattening of the tail". I look at monthly and aggregate data to smooth out daily fluctuations and avoid having us mistake the forest for the trees.

The data shows that in the 1980s, the most-cited oil price war, the average price of oil dropped from approximately $28/barrel in 1985 to a low of $11.58/barrel in July 1986 (US Energy Information Administration data for monthly average front month futures contract price). This would be analogous to a drop from $60/barrel to $25/barrel in 2014 prices, using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator. Prices subsequently rebounded almost 60% from that July 1986 low, ranging between $16/barrel and $20/barrel for the rest of the 1980s. (There were a few months in that 4 year timespan where the average dropped below $15/barrel, but I want to focus on the big picture in this article.) Inflation-adjusted to 2014 price levels, oil prices ranged between $29/barrel and $37/barrel.

Then something dramatic happened. Between July 1990 and October 1990, prices nearly doubled from approximately $18.50/barrel to $36/barrel. You have probably deduced by now that this was when Iraq invaded Kuwait. For the next 3 years, $20/barrel went from being a ceiling for oil prices to being a floor. Subsequently, prices dropped in the rest of the 1990s until doubling and then tripling in the 2000s for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article.

Fast forward 25 years and we are again seemingly in the middle of a price war with no bottom in sight. This time, though, it may indeed be different. It would be foolish to assume the Russians do not remember the impact of the