Saturday, December 20, 2008

Falling Fortunes, Rising Hopes and the Price of Oil

This is the best summary I have read.  HT Ken.

Bill O'Reilly: Intel Briefing
Oil prices have now dipped—albeit only briefly—below US$40 a barrel, a precipitous plunge from their highs of more than US$147 a barrel in July. Just as high oil prices reworked the international economic order, low oil prices are now doing the same. Such a sudden onset of low prices impacts the international system just as severely as recent record highs.

But before we dive into the short-term (that is, up to 12 months) impact of the new price environment, we must state our position in the oil price debate. We have long been perplexed about the onward and upward movement of the oil markets from 2005 to 2008. Certainly, global demand was strong, but a variety of factors such as production figures and growing inventories of crude oil seemed to argue against ever-increasing prices. Some of our friends pointed to the complex world of derivatives and futures trading, which they said had created artificial demand. That may well have been true, but the bottom line is that, based on the fundamentals, the oil numbers did not make a great deal of sense.

Things have clarified a great deal of late. We are now facing an environment in which the United States, Europe and Japan are in recession, while China is, at the very least, expecting to see its growth slow greatly. Demand for crude the world over is sliding sharply even as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member states so far seem unable (or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, perhaps unwilling) to make the necessary deep cuts in output that might halt the price slide. The bottom line is that, while the breathtaking speed at which prices have collapsed has caught us somewhat by surprise, the direction and the depth of the plunge has not.

Prices are likely to remain low for some time. Most of the world's storage facilities—such as the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve—are full to the brim, so large cuts are needed simply to prevent massive oversupply. Yet any OPEC production cuts—the cartel meets Dec. 17 and deep cuts are expected—will take months to have a demonstrable impact, especially in a recessionary environment. And there is the simple issue of scale. The global oil market is a beast: Total demand at present is about 86 million barrels per day. This is not a market that can turn on a dime. A firm fact that flies in the face of conventional wisdom is that oil actually falls far faster than it rises when the fundamentals are out of whack. This has happened on multiple occasions, and not that long ago.

...Low oil prices create both winners and losers on the international scene. First, the winners' list.

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