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What Crude Oil and Red Wine Have in Common

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Serhan Cevik of the International Monetary Fund looked at crude oil data going back two decades and made a remarkable discovery:

The price correlation between oil and high-end red wine exceeds 90%.

Cevik and co-author Tahsin Saadi Sedik write:

The spot price of crude oil, as measured by the monthly average of Brent and West Texas Intermediate, surged from $20 per barrel in January 2002 to $134 in July 2008, surpassing its 1980 record high in constant prices. Similarly, fine wine price —measured by the Liv-ex Fine Wine Investable Index—increased by 243 percent over the same period. Triggered by the credit market turbulence, the sudden downturn in global economic activity lowered crude oil and fine wine prices by 70 percent and 42 percent, respectively, in the second half of 2008. The post-crisis recovery, however, brought about a renewed surge in crude oil and fine wine prices, which increased by 86 percent and 62 percent between January 2009 and June 2010 The statistical behavior of crude oil and fine wine prices has shown remarkable similarity, with a correlation of over 90 percent during the sample period.3 This comovement raises important questions regarding the underlying determinants of two very different commodities, with implications for other industrial and agricultural commodity prices.

According to Cevik, this is because the newly-wealthy in emerging economies tends to drive consumption of both energy and luxury goods. In fact, China just overtook the United States as the largest overseas market for French Bordeaux.

"As they become richer, they demand greater energy, greater amount of commodities, and wine as well," Cevik says.

Chinese billionaire Wang Shi tells American Public Media's Marketplace, "There is a joke that goes, we don't look for the best, we look for the most expensive."

American ex-pat Chip Chaiken, a partner at private-equity firm Blue Point Capital's Shanghai office, describes the mindset:

"People used to keep their tags on their suits, sticking on the outside, so they could indicate to people it was a high-end brand and they paid a lot for it," he says.

While the link between oil and fine wine makes for more interesting headlines than say, oil and rice, Cevik notes that rice could very well track the price of crude, too.

"I would not be surprised if we take 50 commodities, and find very similar results to what we found for crude oil and fine wine," he explains.

Okay, so if wine tracks oil, how does it do against the stock market?

Harvard economist Robert Stavins -- who also edits the Journal of Wine Economics, says, "Only the premium, the top five wines from Bordeaux -- Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton -- have consistently beat the stock market."

For now, Cevik is enjoying his moment in the spotlight.

"I've never heard somebody call an IMF paper 'cool,'" he says. "But from that point of view it's quite encouraging."
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.