R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Oil Moving Back Up

On my latest trip to Amsterdam this week I saw 19 oil tankers parked off the coast in the North Sea (ironically next to a Dutch offshore wind farm). These tankers are being used for floating storage due to the glut of oil in the market. Despite this, oil prices have been on a steady climb. Oil passed $66 today – despite a global recession and all of that oil parked offshore. The Wall Street Journal thinks we are headed back to $75:

Oil Prices: $75 Crude, Here We Come

Oil prices aren’t rising because demand is recovering or because record-setting oil inventories are being burned off. Rather, Mr. Horsnell says, the market believes OPEC is coordinated enough to defend a price floor, presumably through acting together and keeping production in check. Add in a growing belief that the economy could be regaining its footing and oil prices will climb to the price that OPEC is willing and able to defend.

Some say this is all due to speculators. If the reason cited above is correct, then I guess speculation is a good way to describe the recent price rise. There is an expectation that OPEC will maintain discipline and push prices back above $70, which is what OPEC hopes for. Further, if the economy recovers, demand will recover somewhat, further supporting higher prices. Those expectations are being priced in, hence the price rise.

I just hope oil prices don’t make another swift run to $150. In the long run, I do favor higher oil prices because it incentivizes conservation of oil, but if prices change too quickly we are going to find ourselves in The Long Recession.

May 29, 2009 Posted by | oil prices, speculation | 36 Comments

The Speculation Question

I have grappled over the past year with the question of just how much speculation is playing a factor in runaway oil prices. I think it is primarily a supply/demand issue, but I feel that such a large flow of money into commodities is also driving the surge.

Not so, says a new article in Fortune:

Hunting for oil villains

NEW YORK (Fortune) — Atlanta hedge fund manager Michael Masters has been a star witness in two recent Congressional hearings on how speculators are supposedly driving up oil prices. Masters and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this issue, so I was surprised to get a call from him after my “Don’t Blame The Oil Speculators” column went up on Fortune.com last week.

Masters contends that without speculators, the price of oil would be $65 or $70 a barrel. He points out that the amount invested in commodities index products has risen from $13 billion to $260 billion in five years, a fact he thinks is key to understanding oil prices.

It certainly makes sense to me that large flows of money into a sector should impact the price. But the author argues that unless the speculators are taking physical delivery and taking product off of the market, then they won’t impact the price:

My own view is that speculators can’t materially impact prices if all they’re doing is making bets on the direction of oil prices by trading futures and not taking delivery of actual oil – hoarding stuff that would otherwise go to consumers.

Masters did pose an interesting question about how the Hunt brothers attempted to corner the market on silver:

In the end, Masters and I simply agreed to disagree. But there was one thing he said that really piqued my interest. “What do you think would happen,” Masters asked, “if the market went into liquidation-only mode [i.e. if speculators started unloading their futures contracts], like we saw with the Hunt brothers in 1980?”

I won’t give away the ending, but the author reviews the history of the Hunt brothers’ dealings. There was one key difference between their silver dealings and most oil speculators.

So, what do you think? Can speculators have such a huge impact on the price? And if not, what of JD’s suggestion at Peak Oil Debunked that it isn’t a supply/demand issue? Somebody is badly wrong here, or oil wouldn’t have broken through $145/bbl this morning. (I just noticed that JD also took on the article on speculation; will need to read it when I get a chance).

July 3, 2008 Posted by | investing, oil prices, speculation | 35 Comments