Where is the price of oil heading?

6 10 2014

In the sidebar at right of this blog is a live WTC (West Texas Crude) price chart.  I’ve been watching it intently because WTC has been in the low 90’s for some time, and has actually gone under it as I write.  What is going on?  There is a lot of debate about this all over the internet at the moment too….  is this a ‘sign’ that the October financial heebee jeebies are about to strike, again?

Take a look at this chart (lifted from Nicole Foss’ website)


Data from Reuters, IEA, Deutsche Bank and Bloomberg

At the current $90 price, not even Saudi Arabia (which has just posted its first deficit) can break even.  So what is causing this collapse in the oil price?

There is much speculation that ‘someone’ wants to punish Putin for his demeanours in the Ukraine, but if this ‘someone’ is American, then they are seriously hurting the shale oil companies there who can’t even make a profit when oil is at $100….  Or is this someone’s way of ensuring, if you can even put it that way, that GFC MkII doesn’t happen…… yet?  Are we seeing short-term trends? Ironically, the current prices – and remember, oil dropped to $40 in 2008 – are set to cause such mayhem in production and investment due to the fact that much has changed in the oil industry since 2008, that prices must go up again no matter what the economy does.  We are seeing the proverbial rock and a hard place today…….

There is also much confusion in the media, as Ilargi explains:

How reliable are OPEC numbers? Are those just the ones members themselves report? Saudi Arabia has a deficit, AND they cut prices, AND they cut production? I can’t say I’ve figured out either the real actions, or the reasons behind them, but that doesn’t make any sense as a stand-alone set of facts. So why do they do it, if they do, if these things are accurate? We’ve yet to find out.

Saudi enjoys some of the lowest production costs, excluding capital expenditure on new projects, in the region of $2 per barrel, giving it a large margin to soak up a sudden drop-off in price. This compares with estimated production costs in the North Sea which are in the region of $50 per barrel, according to Oil & Gas UK figures.

The graph puts Saudi production costs at $90 per barrel, and the Telegraph, which published the graph, puts it at $2? Please explain, guys. Is that $88 per barrel in “capital expenditure on new projects”?

But then again, today’s modern media just copy/paste stuff without ever checking their facts, the people who put articles in these papers are usually totally ignorant of facts.  I was just shown an article in the Cairns Post (Nth Qld) claiming a new solar farm was going to be built near Cooktown, one of the highest rainfall places in Australia, illustrating the story with a solar thermal plant that would only be built in a desert somewhere.  Then adding that this would alleviate post cyclonic blackouts (told you it rains a lot there!) because the solar plant would be more reliable…….  Hello?  Power goes down when the grid goes down from downed power lines, not because power generators are blown away!  FAIL….  Believe nothing you read in mainstream media is my new motto.  But I digress….

Ilargi continues with……:

Fracking has helped the US achieve its highest oil production levels since 1986 over the last two months at a rate of 8.5m bpd. The threat of a full lifting of the ban on exports has also helped the US to drive down the price and potentially cripple the Russian economy. Moscow is largely dependent on crude sales for foreign currency earnings and oil trading at around $80 per barrel for a period of months could bring the country to its knees.

Something tells me that Putin is far more aware of the reality of the shale industry than Americans are. Which is that shale oil has a present, but no future.

[..] if Opec fails to cut production in response to the current trend in falling oil prices then around 9% of US “tight oil” output would be immediately rendered uneconomic at a level of $90 per barrel. This figure would rise to 39% should prices slump as low as $80 per barrel.

Again, I don’t believe this for a second. It may be true is you exclude capital costs, but what if you include them, as in normal accounting, and what happens when interest rates rise, in an industry that’s borrowed itself up to its infinity and beyond?

Cute article, nice try, but in the end it leaves far too many questions.

Yep……  oil’s future is in serious doubt if these shennanigans continue, and as a result, so will the future of renewables.

Watch this space.



2 responses

6 10 2014
Chris Harries

Simplified, orthodox economics says that when a commodity price falls that means there’s over supply, and this is now confirming a widespread popular belief that there’s no such thing as peak oil, the world is swimming in oil.

Hardly anyone bothers to look beneath the surface of that very shallow debate, so this is one of those periods in history we have to just live through it and allow time to shake everyone up. Volatility is the name of the oil game, like it is with climate change.

6 10 2014
Dave Kimble

The price is in US Dollars per barrel, and the value of the USD, as measured by FX trade with the other 6 major currencies, is strong and getting stronger, see http://quotes.ino.com/chart/history.gif?s=NYBOT_DX&t=l&w=15&a=50&v=d1
It is the weakness of Yen, Euro and AUD that is driving the USD up, and hence the price of oil down. Likewise gold, silver, copper, aluminium, coal.

Demand for gasoline in the US has been falling since 2008, and presumably the same is true in Japan and Europe, yet no one is prepared to cut back on supply, least of all the US. They expect Saudi Arabia to shoulder that burden again, but will it?

Different wells have different costs of extraction, and different qualities of oil, so when a cutback is needed, the least profitable wells are off-lined first. You would need an awful lot of detailled data to know how much price falls would actually impact overall profitability.

The unpredictability of the oil market is putting a major strain on hedge funds and banks, and risk assessment is almost impossible. If a hedging bet gone wrong brings down a major bank, it’s all over.

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