1973 Oil Crisis – Causes & Lessons for Today’s Portfolios

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Written By
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Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

The 1973 Oil Crisis is a significant event in world economic history.

It was a time when global energy systems and economic structures faced a major disruption, which had long-lasting effects.

To understand the lessons that the crisis presents for traders and modern investment portfolios, we first need to look into the causes and impacts of the crisis itself.


Key Takeaways – 1973 Oil Crisis: Causes & Lessons

  • The 1973 Oil Crisis was caused by geopolitical conflicts and an oil embargo by Arab OPEC members in response to the Yom Kippur War.
  • It led to a rapid increase in oil prices, triggering an energy crisis and severe recessions in many western economies.
  • Lessons from the 1973 Oil Crisis for modern investment portfolios include the importance of diversification to mitigate risks, considering geopolitical risk in investment/trading decisions, understanding commodity volatility, and monitoring central bank policies.
  • The crisis played a significant role in shaping today’s energy markets, leading to a global shift towards renewable energy sources due to concerns about energy security, environmental impact, technological advancements, economic opportunities, and supportive policies and incentives.


Key Statistics – 1973 Oil Crisis: Causes & Lessons

  • Oil Price Increase: The price of oil quadrupled during the crisis, rising from around $3 per barrel to nearly $12 per barrel within a few months.
  • Global Oil Production Decline: Oil production in the United States dropped by 6%, while oil exports from the Middle East fell by around 5 million barrels per day.
  • Fuel Shortages: Many countries experienced fuel shortages and rationing as a result of reduced oil supplies. In the United States, gas stations were often closed on Sundays, and there were long lines at the pumps.
  • Economic Impact: Western economies, heavily reliant on cheap oil, suffered severe recessions. For example, the GDP growth rate in the United States dropped from 5.6% in 1973 to 2.5% in 1974.
  • Stock Market Crash: The crisis triggered a global stock market crash. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by nearly 45% from its peak in early 1973 to its low in December 1974.
  • Inflation Surge: Inflation rates surged in many countries due to the higher costs of energy. In the United States, inflation reached double digits, with the annual inflation rate peaking at 12.2% in 1974.
  • OPEC Revenue Increase: OPEC member countries experienced a substantial increase in oil revenues. For example, Saudi Arabia’s oil revenue jumped from $3.3 billion in 1972 to $45 billion in 1975.
  • Energy Policy Changes: The crisis prompted significant changes in energy policies, including the establishment of strategic oil reserves and increased investment in alternative energy sources.


The Causes of the 1973 Oil Crisis

The oil crisis of 1973 was a direct result of geopolitical conflicts.

Specifically, it originated from the Yom Kippur War, which was fought between Israel and a coalition of Arab nations in October of 1973.

In response to the US decision to resupply the Israeli military during the war, Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) enacted an oil embargo.

This embargo led to a rapid and severe increase in oil prices.

In the span of just a few months, the price of oil quadrupled. From about $3 per barrel, it jumped to nearly $12.

This drastic change led to an acute energy crisis in the western world that were importers of it.


The Impact of the 1973 Oil Crisis

The 1973 oil crisis had widespread impacts across economies globally.

Most notably, it led to severe recessions in many western economies, which had become heavily dependent on cheap oil.

The rapid increase in oil prices led to rampant inflation. High oil prices drove up the cost of producing and transporting goods, leading to higher prices for consumers and businesses.

The oil crisis also triggered a fall in the stock market.

In simple terms, equity values are a function of earnings and interest rates.

Higher costs lead to lower earnings and higher inflation leads to higher interest rates. Both are a knock on equity values.


Lessons for Today’s Portfolios

There are many lessons that modern traders and investors can get from the 1973 oil crisis.

These lessons are particularly relevant in today’s world, where geopolitical tensions and environmental challenges continue to pose threats to global economic stability.


One of the key lessons from the 1973 oil crisis is the importance of diversification.

Investors who had heavily invested in oil-dependent industries suffered greatly during the crisis.

A diversified portfolio, comprising a broad range of asset classes and sectors, can help to mitigate the impact of such shocks.

It spreads the risk across a variety of assets that are likely to react differently to the same event.

Geopolitical Risk

The crisis underscored the importance of considering geopolitical risk in portfolio decisions.

Certain risks don’t come up often and tend to be underweighted.

Events in distant parts of the world can have a substantial impact on global markets.

Today’s traders/investors should be aware of the geopolitical landscape and its potential impacts on their investments.

This includes understanding international relations, political stability, and conflict scenarios.

Commodity Risk

Another lesson is the inherent risk associated with commodities.

The price of commodities like oil can be extremely volatile and is influenced by a variety of factors, including supply-demand dynamics, geopolitical events (e.g., 1973, 1991 Persian Gulf War, 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine), and technological changes.

Investors should understand these risks and consider how a significant price movement in a major commodity could affect their portfolio.

They could also consider owning a diversified mix of commodities to help offset potential price falls in the other financial assets they own.

The Role of Central Banks

The 1973 oil crisis highlighted the role of central banks in managing economic crises.

And it’s also important to know their limitations.

Central banks have a direct effect on demand because of their influence on money and credit creation.

But they can’t directly control supply, or the production of new goods, services, and financial assets.


1973 Oil Crisis and Avoiding Energy Dependence

The 1973 oil crisis highlighted the risks of dependence on fossil fuels and the vulnerability of economies to disruptions in oil supplies.

This lesson has been one of the earlier driving factors behind the move toward renewable energy sources.

During the 1973 oil crisis, several oil-producing nations imposed an embargo on countries supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War, leading to a significant rise in oil prices and shortages in many parts of the world.

The crisis exposed the inherent volatility and geopolitical risks associated with relying heavily on fossil fuel resources.

Governments and policymakers realized need to diversify energy sources and reduce dependence on oil.

This realization laid a greater foundation for the development and promotion of renewable energy technologies.

However, the investment and time to move the needle is significant. Many alternative energy sources are not dense or reliable.

Here are some key ways in which this influence is evident:

Energy Security

The oil crisis made it clear that relying on a limited number of oil-exporting countries for energy needs could result in supply disruptions and economic instability.

By embracing different energy sources and increasing domestic energy production (if possible), countries aim to enhance their energy security by diversifying their energy mix and reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Environmental Concerns

The 1973 oil crisis raised awareness about the environmental impact of fossil fuel consumption.

As people witnessed the effects of pollution and climate change, there was a growing recognition of the need to transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

Renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power offer a greener alternative to fossil fuels, with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Technological Advancements

The oil crisis prompted more investment in research and development of alternative energy technologies.

Governments and private industries began investing in renewable energy research, leading to advancements in solar panels, wind turbines, energy storage systems, and other clean energy solutions.

Economic Opportunities

The pursuit of renewable energy has created new economic opportunities.

As countries transition more to renewable energy sources, it has led to the establishment of new industries, job creation, and investments in local economies.

Policy and Incentives

The oil crisis influenced the development of policies and incentives that support renewable energy deployment.

Governments implemented measures such as feed-in tariffs, tax credits, and renewable portfolio standards to encourage the adoption of renewable energy technologies.


FAQs – 1973 Oil Crisis: Causes & Lessons

What were the main causes of the 1973 oil crisis?

The 1973 oil crisis was primarily triggered by political events, specifically the Yom Kippur War, which involved the major oil-producing nations of the Middle East.

The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) decided to retaliate against the US and other Western nations that supported Israel in the conflict by enforcing an oil embargo.

This action drastically reduced the global oil supply, which resulted in skyrocketing oil prices and severe economic repercussions for dependent nations.

How did the 1973 oil crisis impact the global economy?

The sudden oil price surge caused by the embargo led to high inflation, economic stagnation, and a severe recession in many parts of the world.

Western economies, which heavily depended on Middle Eastern oil, were hit particularly hard.

The higher costs of energy affected transportation and heating costs for consumers, as well as increased the costs of producing goods, which resulted in a sharp increase in the price of goods and services.

How did the 1973 oil crisis reshape the geopolitical landscape?

The crisis exposed the vulnerability of Western economies to the actions of oil-producing countries.

It also underlined the strategic importance of the Middle East and its vast oil reserves, and it highlighted the growing interdependence of economies in a globalized world.

This changed the dynamics of international relations, increasing the Middle East’s political significance and prompting consuming nations to diversify their energy sources and increase their strategic oil reserves.

How does the 1973 oil crisis inform our understanding of today’s energy markets?

The crisis served as a catalyst for significant changes in energy policies and behaviors across the globe.

It underscored the inherent risks of over-reliance on a single energy source and led to efforts to diversify energy supplies and improve energy efficiency.

Today’s energy markets are shaped by these lessons, with a broader mix of energy sources including renewables, and policies aimed at reducing dependence on foreign oil.

How can the 1973 oil crisis help shape investment strategies today?

Understanding the impact of the 1973 oil crisis can inform investment strategies by highlighting the potential risks and rewards associated with different types of investments.

For example, investments in energy companies, particularly those involved in oil production, can be both lucrative and risky, depending on geopolitical factors.

This underscores the importance of diversification in investment portfolios.

What lessons can investors take from the 1973 oil crisis?

The 1973 oil crisis offers key lessons for traders/investors.

First, it underscores the importance of diversification in an investment portfolio. Having a variety of investments can help protect against major disruptions in any one sector, asset class, or currency.

Second, it highlights the role of geopolitical events in influencing markets, underlining the need for investors to consider such factors in their strategies.

Finally, it demonstrates the potential for rapid, unexpected changes in the market, emphasizing the need for careful risk management.

How should one adjust their portfolio considering the lessons from the 1973 oil crisis?

Based on the lessons from the 1973 oil crisis, investors should consider a balanced and diversified portfolio to mitigate risks.

This might involve a mix of assets such as stocks, bonds, and commodities, and a diverse array of sectors, not just energy or strong sectoral concentration.

Additionally, investors should stay informed about global events and consider potential risks and impacts on their investments.

For example, whenever there is a trade-off between two things (e.g., traditional energy vs. renewables, two competitors that compete for the same business), avoiding concentration in one or the other can be helpful and mitigate volatility.



The 1973 oil crisis serves as a reminder of the potential volatility and unpredictability of global markets.

What we don’t know is always more important than what we know.

By understanding the causes and consequences of this historical event, traders/investors can gain insights to help them navigate future economic crises.

For today’s portfolios, the lessons from the crisis underline the importance of diversification, understanding geopolitical and commodity risks, and the role of central banks in mitigating their effects (and their limitations).