Monday, March 08, 2010

Adios Cheap Oil, Says Shell's CEO

As the crude oil price lurks around its 52-week high of $83.25 a barrel, one cannot but help thinking about what CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Peter Voser said earlier this month. Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference in California on March 4, Voser told delegates, "I think what is dead is cheap oil. There is sufficient oil around but producers will have to spend more to get it. And I think you'll see that in the end price for consumers."

Debunking the “Peak Oil” hypothesis, Voser said that by 2050 around 40% of cars worldwide will be electric leaving some two-thirds still running on oil. “We will need conventional oil for the foreseeable future,” he added.

Oil futures gained over 2% last week, on the back of positive U.S. jobs data and healthy market feedback on Chinese and Indian economic growth. According to an investors note sent out to clients, analysts at Commerzbank AG believe the price of oil could exceed the current trading circa of $70 to $82 a barrel.

Earlier today, the crude contract for April delivery rose to an intraday high of $82.47 a barrel on the NYMEX before being tempered by a rising U.S. dollar, with the ongoing Greek debt tragedy continuing to weigh on the Euro. At 17:15 GMT, NYMEX crude contract for April delivery was up 10 cents or 0.12% at $81.51 a barrel. Concurrently, London Brent crude contract was trading at $80.35 up 11 cents or 0.14%.

Classic problem for forecasters is that direction of the economy and currency fluctuation aside, ETFs have more or less converted investing in commodities into a pseudo asset class. Hence, retail investors could de facto bet on commodities consumption patterns of emerging economies by investing (or divesting) in commodities, especially oil, via ETFs.

Oil has always been the vanguard of the commodities bubble. Excluding, London and Singapore markets, in 2003, ratio of paper barrels traded to physical barrels traded on NYMEX stood at 6:1. By 2008, the figure had risen to 19:1 and continues to rise, according to industry sources. Now imagine adding London and Singapore markets to the ratios?

It is a no-brainer that anyone who holds a paper barrel hopes to profit from it and few have any intention whatsoever of ever taking an actual delivery of oil. I feel it is prudent to mention that I am not joining the “Hate Speculators Club”. While supply and demand scenarios should (and in most cases do) dictate market movements, there’s more than one reason why cheap oil’s dead.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy © Royal Dutch Shell

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