The price of crude oil and growing tensions with Iran are bubbling to the top of economists' and policymakers' worry lists for 2012, as US and European Union sanctions threaten to reduce the sales of Iranian oil and put pressure on one of the world's largest petroleum exporters.
"It's been in the background for quite some time," said Edward Yardeni, a leading investment strategist. "I've characterized it as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for 2012."
The push for tighter sanctions on Iranian oil exports comes at a time when oil prices are already high. Last year was a record-shattering year for oil prices, which averaged $107 a barrel, according to figures from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Rising oil prices could hurt the fragile global economy, which includes economists' other big worry: Europe.
Barclays Capital analysts noted on Friday that in terms of the euro currency, oil prices "have now almost matched their previous peak of July 2008," draining money from economies already struggling with the sovereign debt crisis.
Many analysts do not think Iran would risk military conflict by carrying out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, used by tankers carrying 17 million barrels of oil a day, about a fifth of the world's consumption.
Meanwhile, US and European efforts to put a crimp in Iran's exports appear to be having an effect already. US restrictions on doing business with Iran's central bank have been felt in India, the second-largest buyer of Iranian oil.
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