V Anantha Nageswaran
What is interesting in Daniel Yergin’s FT piece is that he deftly sidesteps the question of predicting the future for oil price—near-term or in the long-term. In recent years, he has been proven wrong. His Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) has been bearish on oil since 2004-05.
More important rather than interesting are his comments on the skyrocketing cost of everything from rigs, to ships to technical and skilled personnel. Clearly, for many reasons, the world needs to slow down. Central banks (or more precisely, governments) are unwilling to let that happen. The result is going to be more inflation (for a year or two) and less growth and eventual deflationary bust.
There is no dearth of commentary that predicts an imminent end to oil price. Usually, things happen unexpectedly, just as the rise of oil price itself to present levels. Now that every one and his dog is praying for or predicting a collapse in oil price, I wonder if it would happen now.
In fact, John Hussman finds the contango in crude oil futures as heralding a big slump just as it did in 2006 when the price of oil dropped from around USD 80 to USD 55 per barrel.
He has exited his position in crude oil and has reduced his position in precious metals to 2%. How he proposes to reconcile that with his bearish stance on equities in the U.S.A is something that I have not been able to ask since I do not have his email address. Then, there are the comments by Mr. George Soros. He blamed it on speculators. One Michael Master in his testimony to the US Congress on the oil price spike. He has said that it is caused by index investors.
I do not recall hearing of him before this testimony. Suddenly, his name is everywhere.
It is not clear if these prognostications confuse wishful thinking for forecasts, for buried within its crevices, the Wall Street Journal carried an article on the oil producers shipping less crude than before.
This article refers to the rising consumption in Saudi Arabia and the rapidly declining export from Mexico. It is an interesting read and manages to finish on an optimistic note, somewhat inexplicably (i.e., that is falling oil price). Brad Setser makes an interesting point that this article was buried too deeply in the inside pages of WSJ than it deserved to. See this interesting post by Brad Setser.
Talking of inexplicable conclusions that did not flow from the discussions that preceded it, this paper by researchers by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas does the same thing. It argues, explains and convinces us that oil prices are justifably high. Then suddenly it concludes that sustaining triple-digit prices would be difficult.
It is funny and a different story that different people have different persons in mind for “speculators”. If you add them up, just about every one would be deemed a speculator while, of course, all those who invest in stocks that sustain Wall Street are fundamentally driven, analytical and rational.
I think America does not want to see the price of oil to drop so much that it angers the Sheikhs in the Arabian sands so much that they stop writing cheques for bankrupt Wall Street institutions.
The first line is a gem: “Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, will invite oil producers to invest their petrodollars in the US while urging them to take steps to curb the price of oil in the medium term on a tour of the Gulf that begins on Friday”.
Once America has finished re-capitalising its financial institutions, it would not be averse to seeing the oil price collapse. In fact, it might even actively conspire to bring that eventuality about for biting the hand that fed them is part of longstanding Western tradition.
Geopolitical gains are not trifle if the price of oil continues to remain high, it would also put paid to any fledgling ambition of China (or even the distant India) to overtake America. At the very least, it would push the time-frame out by a few years and with some luck, few decades:
Credit Suisse’ s Dong Tao wrote in their “Emerging Markets Economics Daily” dated May 30, 2008 that Xu Xianchun, deputy director of the National Bureau of Statistics, has suggested that inflation might not peak until 2009 (p. 15).
The longer the oil stays elevated, the longer the persistence of inflation in China and the greater the policy challenge. In the meantime, more money would keep coming into China in search of appreciation.
Brad Setser estimates the rise in monthly reserves in China at USD 74 billions in April. Given that dollar appreciated in April, the actual sum could be about USD 82 billion, nearly a trillion dollar annual rate! There is no need to analyse this. China’s policy is totally and utterly rudderless. Brad Setser is way too polite on this one.
So, for what it is worth (you might be better off tossing a coin to decide), my forecast is that the price of crude oil would drop to about USD 110-115 or so. That is about it. It would then go back to 150 to drive one final nail into Asian economies, shower riches on West Asia and re-capitalise America. Then, once it has done its damage, the missile would be allowed to extinguish itself or burn itself out (pun intended).