You Can Drill All You Want, Oil Prices Are Still Headed Higher

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Today I want to focus again on oil prices. It seems that some TV pundits have never heard (with apologies to Alexander Pope) that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Some people on Wall Street believe that by scaring the individual investor they stand to make a greater profit for themselves.

Over the summer, there was a report issued by Credit Suisse that said that oil could hit $50 a barrel. We've also seen predictions on CNBC saying $40 a barrel. Others think that oil prices could fall even go further.

What I am telling you now is that these views do not reflect the actual market or the new reality we find ourselves in today.

A lot of this sentiment stems from the idea that we have now increased our supplies here in the United States. Some political candidates even said that they guaranteed "$2.50" per gallon gasoline if they were elected.

"Drill, baby, drill" has become something of a national catchphrase.

The problem is that prices are not just reflective of new supplies, either too much or too little. By focusing only on how much is there, these analysts provide a fundamentally distorted view of the oil market.

Yes, the rise of new sources has altered the picture. But so has the rise in demand globally and at a rate much faster than anticipated.

In fact, the impact of unconventional oil (like our huge sources of shale oil) is now projected to be less than expected, even with additional volume coming on line.

And one report issued last week reflects that fundamental view and explains why oil prices are set to rise, not fall in this age of expanded unconventional oil and gas.

The Fundamentals Are What Matter to Oil Prices

I want to introduce you to a company called Bernstein Research.

They are regarded as the top energy research company in the world by their institutional investors. They're in 40 countries. They win awards every year for having the best analysts in the sectors they cover.

And they are very successful in their forward focus because they emphasize the fundamentals.

Last week, Bernstein Research released a detailed report reflecting the position I have been holding for some time-oil prices are headed higher.

In the 180 pages, one of the best oil analysis teams in the business concludes oil prices will be rising to $158 on average for Brent in London, and about $153 for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) in New York before the end of the decade, with a concerted upward trajectory kicking in early next year.

And that's just the average price. Spikes will carry it much higher.

As an example, as I write this we are at more than $117 per barrel for Brent and more than $98 per barrel for WTI. Yet the annual averages for each are currently about $105 and $82.

The report also flatly dismisses the protracted effect some television pundits think is coming from shale oil. While it will have a much more pronounced result in North America, the unconventional will have a more subdued effect on prices elsewhere in the world.

The estimate is that the overall impact of the "new oil" will comprise only 3.2% of worldwide supply at the beginning of the next decade, with most of that being in the U.S. market.

Remember, this is a global market.

Global demand and availability determines price, with that price translated to the market by the dominant benchmarks – Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI).

This is not simply a question of how much supply is available. Three more fundamental factors influencing an upward price move.

Three Factors Pointing to Higher Oil Prices

First, demand continues to rise in those parts of the world most directly effecting price. Those areas, as I have noted many times before, are not North America or Western Europe. They are also markets in which unconventional oil will not have an effect for some time.

Second, the presence of shale oil does offset supply concerns in North America. But it also does so by increasing the overall cost of production. The market effect per barrel of shale oil extracted will still increase the price of the crude. The cost of producing that barrel and the associated to-market costs is known as the marginal price of oil.

In fact, Bernstein Research says that the average marginal cost of oil around the world today is $92 a barrel, and is set to rise because it is more expensive to lift, process, refine, and distribute these new sources of crude oil.

Finally, the pricing dynamic is also about the regionalization of supply for both crude and refined oil products. As we move toward 2015 and beyond, the demand curve will dictate pricing premiums for regions where imbalances of supply are present.

The prospect is there for new sources, but the costs being passed down the line are extraordinarily high.

Of course, it still makes sense to one way of looking at oil – the "simple is as simple does" approach.

Simply put, oil prices are on the rise, and one of the most reputable research firms in the world are backing up what you and I have known all along.

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About the Author

Dr. Kent Moors is an internationally recognized expert in oil and natural gas policy, risk assessment, and emerging market economic development. He serves as an advisor to many U.S. governors and foreign governments. Kent details his latest global travels in his free Oil & Energy Investor e-letter. He makes specific investment recommendations in his newsletter, the Energy Advantage. For more active investors, he issues shorter-term trades in his Energy Inner Circle

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  1. Ray Pettitt | September 20, 2012

    fascinating report

    Ray

  2. Bart | November 12, 2012

    How can I get a copy of the Bernstein report?

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