Potential factors to push crude oil over $100 a barrel
Crude oil prices have been on a seesaw of volatility, most notably since hitting $100 a barrel in January of this year. Since that time there have been recession fears in America, massive rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, horrendous losses by most financials due to the mortgage sub-prime loans, and drops in the stock markets to near bear levels. That says nothing of the current growing battle between Venezuela and Exxon.
Overall the pressure has been on the downside of pricing, as many of the indicators express a likelihood of reduced demand as industries slow down. Yet not all the pressure is one sided. And the economic outlook is seen as not as bleak as once thought.
"The market has been struggling with whether we are recession-bound or not," John Kilduff, senior vice president for energy at brokerage MF Global in New York said. "That's an indicator [Japan’s economy] that whether or not we are, there's some life out there in the rest of the world and energy demand could hold up."
It’s this factor that has added to the price of crude oil recently, topping $95 a barrel on February 14th. But I think there is an aspect that has yet to be factored into the market. That factor has nothing to do with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s thoughts the U.S. economy will rebound at the end of the year. It has little to do with the lack of effort of states like Michigan to create a renewable portfolio standard. It has everything to do with Venezuela.
It’s a given that the 90,000 barrels of low quality crude exported by Venezuela to the U.S. is a fraction of what the nation used. The threatened cut of sales to the United States is more likely to have a negative effect on Venezuela than effect America or impact crude prices significantly. But it’s the ally of Venezuela, or more accurately the ally of Hugo Chavez that matters. That ally would be Iran.
Iran is a major oil exporter, and no friend of America. In recent months there have been several conversations of mutual support between Iran and Venezuela, and condemnation of the U.S. It is this mutual anti-American sentiment that could drive up prices beyond an OPEC reduction in supply might create.
If the current court actions continue to favor Exxon over Petroleos de Venezuela, and negotiations fail with ConocoPhillips causing them to follow in Exxon’s direction it could start a landslide against that nation. In the face of that kind of pressure, and the refusal to sell oil to America, Iran may join with Venezuela in a stance against America. This combination of political action and national leadership prejudices is an unknown that I have yet to see any analyst or blogger mention. It’s probable that the reason for that is the unlikely nature of it coming to pass. But unlikely is not improbable.
Beyond this scenario the more likely thing to expect is that OPEC will be cutting production levels during the March 5th meeting. Without a dramatic downturn in the U.S. and world economies, in that order of importance, a return to $100 a barrel will likely happen again for a brief period before the summer and then drop back into the mid -90’s. But I believe a surge will occur along with a resurgence of the American economy in the 3rd and 4th quarters. I will say that by the end of 2008 oil breaking $110 is likely.
Now let’s see if this comes to pass.