Dollars and Jens
Saturday, July 26, 2008
oil prices
What's the right price for oil right now?
(1) According to the Energy Information Administration, China consumed 7.6 million barrels of petroleum each day of 2007, which is 860,000 barrels/day more than in 2005. (2) EIA also reports that the world as a whole produced 84.6 million barrels of oil per day in 2007, which is 30 thousand barrels per day less than 2005.

Now, how could it be that China is burning 860,000 b/d more than it used to, but no more is being produced? Well, it could be that there are errors in the consumption or production numbers, and both will likely be revised. Or it could be that we're drawing down global inventories. But the most natural inference is that somebody else in the world must have been persuaded to reduce their consumption of oil between 2005 and 2007 to free the barrels now being used in China. And indeed, according to preliminary EIA estimates, petroleum consumption in the U.S., Japan, and those countries in Europe for which data are now available fell by 760,000 b/d between 2005 and 2007.

For reference, the NSPR has about 700 billion barrels of oil (private stocks in the U.S. aren't quite that high, but are similar). If it were clear that oil prices would drop in the next year or two, putting some of that on the market could make a significant difference.

Of course, we don't know that, and if prices go even higher we'd wish we'd hung on to the oil. (Note that it's intended to be held for tail-risk situations, not ordinary price manipulation.) He ends with

What about the delayed response of quantity demanded to the price increases already in place? If that proves to be substantial (and I'm of the opinion that it will), U.S. petroleum consumption should continue to decline during 2008 even with no further price increases and no recession. There's also been some increase in global production this year, and more is expected. Won't that be enough to satisfy those new and thirsty Chinese vehicles? If so, $123/barrel may be way too high a price.

But don't forget, while you're doing these calculations, you'll need to meet Chinese demand for 2009, and 2010, and 2011.... Which, if you project the current trend and tried to satisfy entirely by cuts in U.S. consumption, would have us down to consuming zero barrels of oil in the United States in about 17 years.

Is the price of oil today too high given the fundamentals? Could be. Is it too low? Could be. But one thing I'm sure that's too high is the confidence on the part of those who insist they know the answer.

Oil for delivery next April is about $2 higher than now, then it starts decreasing as you go out, but hardly in a dramatic way.

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