Friday, February 6, 2009

Oil | Forty Dollars the Low for oil?

Now that oil futures prices have traded above the $40 mark for a couple weeks, some are concluding that the bottom may have finally been reached for the black gold.
After hitting a four-year low of $32.40 a barrel on Dec. 19, oil has now rebounded more than 20%. While occasionally falling below $40 in intraday trading, it has closed above $40 everyday since Jan. 20. Similarly, national average gasoline prices have risen above $1.90 a gallon from below $1.70 a month ago.
"While crude-oil markets may remain vulnerable to further disappointments in [...] economic conditions, there is also the potential for a price base to be forming," wrote Brenda Sullivan, an analyst at Sucden Financial Research, in a note.
Ultimately, analysts say the future direction of oil prices will depend on the outcome of the struggle of two opposing forces.
On the one hand, the weakening global economy is expected to lead demand for oil to fall for a second year, marking the first two-straight-year decline in decades. On the other hand, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is expected to continue cutting production at a record pace to put a floor under prices.
High stakes
The stakes are high for investors who are bullish on oil, especially those who've poured record amounts into oil exchange-traded funds.
Data showed investment in oil ETFs, a convenient investment channel for retail investors, has reached record levels. The number of crude futures contracts held by the United States Oil Fund (USO) , the largest oil ETF, hit a record high near 80,000 recently. One contract represents 1,000 barrels of oil.
Last year, the commodity proved one of the best ways to earn a lot of money - and then, to lose it all. After hitting a record high of $147 a barrel in July, oil fell more than $100, or 70% by year-end. It closed 2008 down 54%, its biggest loss ever and more than the stock market's tumble.
Trading in the first months of this year also didn't bode well for oil bulls. Crude has lost 10% so far this year, compared with a 5% loss in the Reuters/Jefferies CRB commodities index, and a 4% gain in gold prices.
On Friday, oil fell 2% to near $40 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the U.S. reported a 16-year high unemployment rate. See Futures Movers.
Some analysts predict oil prices could fall to as low as $25 in the second quarter. The inflation-adjusted record low for Nymex oil is at $18.90 a barrel, hit on April 1, 1986. In non-adjusted dollar terms, that low was $9.75, the only time in Nymex history that oil fell below $10.
OPEC cuts production
Investors aren't the only ones wanted oil prices to stabilize. The 12 OPEC member countries, whose revenues heavily depend on oil prices, have made record cuts in their production.
Some of the members of OPEC said they want to see oil prices rise to at least $60 a barrel.
At its December meeting, OPEC agreed to reduce production by a record amount of 2.2 million barrels a day, starting from Jan. 1, adding to previous cuts of 2 million barrels. Overall, the reduction is equal to about 5% of the world's oil demand, which should easily offset any drop in demand, analysts believe.
Most energy agencies, including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency, predict world oil demand will fall by 1% to 2% this year, following a similar decline in 2008.
Chakib Khelil, Algeria's energy minister, said Tuesday there was a 50% chance of another supply cut during OPEC's next meeting on March 15, according to media reports.
But OPEC members, who control more than one third of the world's oil production, have a sketchy record of implementing production cuts.
Oil could rise if OPEC cuts production, said Phil Flynn, vice president at Alaron Trading. "But the problem is the compliance."

OPEC in January met only two-thirds of its pledge to lower oil output, as several members continued to pump above target levels, a Reuters survey showed on Tuesday.
While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates lowered their production below or close to their targets, some other countries, such as Venezuela and Iran, have pumped more oil than their allowed quotas, the survey found.
Economic rebound?
Investors are also hoping demand will rebound once the economy is revived. With governments worldwide adopting stimulus packages, some economists believe the economy could bottom out in the second half of the year.
The Federal Reserve said late January the economy was in worse shape than it was in December, but a "gradual recovery [...] will begin later this year."
And in its January monthly report, the Energy Department's EIA said that after two years' decline, world oil consumption is expected to record a modest rebound in 2010,.
Such forecasts have already encouraged oil investors to build up their positions, even before prices start rising.
"We are in a world of increasing demand and decreasing supply for tangible things, especially energy," said Steven Podnos, a financial advisor at Wealth Care LLC. "Oil represents an attractive investment sector."
But for now, the oil market is still plagued by weak demand and lofty inventories. The EIA reported Wednesday that crude inventories in the U.S., the world's biggest oil consumer, rose for a sixth straight week to 346.1 million barrels, the highest level in 18 months.
Meanwhile, inventories at Cushing, Okla., the delivery point for Nymex crude futures, have reached a new record high of 34.3 million barrels.
Global demand is poised to post the largest contraction this year since 1982, analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a recent report.
"Supply constraints will remain a longer-term issue and will be intensified by the current bout of weaker prices," the Morgan Stanley analysts said. But "the magnitude of demand weakness will leave this constraint a non-issue in 2009."
They expect oil prices to average $35 barrels in 2009 and fall to a low of $25 in the second quarter.
The EIA, meanwhile, said in its January report, it expects oil prices to average $43 per barrel in 2009 and $55 in 2010.

While oil prices should rise this year, it'll be interesting to see if we've really hit an oil futures low, or it takes more time to work out depending on consumer demand connected to the economic crisis.

No comments:

Post a Comment