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  • Why Oil Prices Aren't Coming Down Despite Big U.S. Oil Boom Energy oil dollar small

    The dual promise of the U.S. shale oil boom was that it would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower oil prices that would benefit U.S. consumers via cheaper gasoline.

    But while U.S. oil production continues to rise, and gasoline consumption continues to fall, gas prices have remained stubbornly high: The national average was about $3.65 last week.

    And that trend is expected to continue, with the United States surging past Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer of crude oil as soon as 2020. Meanwhile, U.S. gasoline demand is at its lowest in more than a decade - down to 8.7 million barrels a day.

    Facts like that have led some pundits to predict falling oil prices. Last year, some politicians were promising that stepped-up U.S. oil production could lower gasoline prices to $2.50 a gallon.

    Frustrated U.S. drivers struggling to cope with high gas prices were eager to believe such promises, no matter how unlikely.

    Unfortunately, all that new U.S. oil, while helpful in some ways, will not have much effect on gas prices - either now or in the foreseeable future.

    "The problem is that prices are not just reflective of new supplies, either too much or too little," explained Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors. "By focusing only on how much is there, these analysts provide a fundamentally distorted view of the oil market."

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  • Ignore the Doom-and-Gloom Crowd When They Talk About $40 Oil I just returned from a week down South with a few of my energy clients. It's good to get my hands dirty and remind myself firsthand what is going on at the project level of some of the country's top energy companies.

    But when I returned home this weekend, I made the mistake of flicking on the television and opening the newspaper.
    I can't believe that the pundits are now predicting that oil will fall to $40 a barrel. They also are projecting that the entire natural gas sector is going to collapse.

    Here we go again.

    Yes, we are wrestling with an energy sector that remains gun shy on elements from market volatility to geopolitical tensions.
    And sure, $40 a barrel is possible, but only in an improbable situation where global demand for oil completely collapses, along with the world economy.

    But we are in a new reality. And such doom and gloom predictions are highly oversimplified and potentially dangerous to you as an investor.

    Here's why.


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  • Oil Prices Promise to Head Higher As Mexican Production Dwindles In addition to Iranian threats and growing demand, dwindling production of crude in Mexico promises to push oil prices higher as well.

    Mexico is the third biggest exporter of oil to the United States. That's bad news for the U.S. economy which always gets hit when oil prices rise.

    From 2004 to 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy reports such jolts, along with OPEC price manipulation, cost roughly $1.9 trillion. Plus, a recession followed each major blow.

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Mexican oil production reached a peak of 3.2 million barrels a day in 2008. And by 2011, it wasn't even producing 3 million barrels a day.

    Since then oil production has slipped to 2.5 million barrels a day.

    Worse still, Mexico could actually become a net importer of oil within a decade if it cannot find fresh discoveries to make up for the 25% production drop since 2004 and fails to change its current policies.


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  • Oil Prices are Higher, But It Won't Be Much Help for Alternative Energy Normally, when gas and oil prices accelerate on both sides of the Atlantic, alternative energy sources come into focus and become a big part of that "energy independence" discussion.

    Well, not this time.

    During the run up to mid-$4 gas and $147 a barrel oil in 2008, many assumed these costs would continue to advance. That made alternative sources - especially renewables such as solar, wind, biofuels, and geothermal - more attractive to investors, politicians, and energy enthusiasts.

    Alternative sources are more expensive than conventional oil, gas, or coal. They are, however, more environmentally friendly. Paying those higher costs was regarded as a tradeoff for cleaner energy sources and a reduction in emissions.

    Today, that view has changed.

    U.S. Oil and Gas Squeezes Alternative Energy Prospects

    It's part of the reason why I've recently avoided alternative energy companies like First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ) or SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR) in my Energy Advantage portfolio.

    The economic downturn has made reliance on more expensive energy sources a difficult proposition to accept. Renewables are hardly a convincing argument anymore, especially during a sluggish economic recovery.

    Yes, increasing oil and gas prices should reduce the spread between conventional and renewable, thereby providing stronger arguments for change. And proponents argue that alternatives provide an enhanced advantage given that they can also be domestically produced.

    Just don't bet on these arguments holding up this time. Here's why.

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  • Why a Strategic Petroleum Reserve Release Won't Help Oil Prices or President Obama With oil prices showing no signs of retreat during the final months of the U.S. presidential campaign, beltway insiders are turning to one misguided solution to combat rising oil prices.

    Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).

    Trial balloons floated all over Washington during the past few days. The only reason politicians didn't move on this sooner (say a few months ago) was the price level.

    Until the last month or so, both oil and gasoline prices were heading in the other direction. Near-month futures contracts for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the crude oil benchmark traded on the NYMEX, were below $78 a barrel in intraday trade toward the end of June, while the same futures for RBOB (the NYMEX traded gasoline contract) were at $2.55 a gallon.

    At the time, all the sage pundits predicted that oil would fall below $60 a barrel; some even suggested that prices could approach $40. On the gasoline side, these same wise guys were proclaiming we may see prices at the pump breach $3.

    Everything has changed quickly.

    Yesterday morning the markets opened with WTI 23% higher than late June and RBOB up by more than 20%. Oil stands at more than $96 a barrel in New York, while Brent has exceeded $116 a barrel in London. And retail gas prices are once again approaching $4 a gallon.

    Recently, I discussed why oil prices are moving up. But for some politicians, including the fellow running for reelection at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, those prices are becoming a job liability.

    So it's back to hitting the SPR.

    But there are four reasons why tapping the SPR won't make oil prices any cheaper in the end.

    Maybe you should let your Congressman know about them...

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  • Will Oil Prices be the Next Manipulation Scandal? Now that the Libor manipulation scandal has been revealed, it looks like oil prices could be the focus of the next search for misreporting.

    According to the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), the current system of oil price reporting is "susceptible to manipulation or distortion."

    Comparisons to Libor manipulation have been made because oil prices, such as Brent, serve as a benchmark for trillions of dollars of securities and contracts.

    There is the potential for market participants to manipulate oil price assessments published by price-reporting agencies (PRA) through the submission of false information and selective reporting of deals.

    Traders at various banks voluntarily report the prices they pay for oil contracts to Platts and other PRAs. Platts, which provides the most influential assessment, uses a number of trades to decide what the benchmark price, quoted to the outside world, should be.

    That is where the trouble begins.


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  • High Oil Prices: Even $200 Oil Won't Cause a Recession Last Friday's weak unemployment numbers, with only 120,000 jobs created, brought renewed wails that high oil prices were causing a recession.

    Having heard this refrain so many times, I thought I'd dig a little deeper.

    After all, a peak of $145 per barrel in the West Texas Intermediate oil price pretty well coincided with the onset of the 2008 recession.

    The question is whether or not high oil prices are always correlated with an inevitable downturn.

    For instance, when you look closer, oil was not to blame in 2008. Other factors were much more serious culprits, including the housing crisis (by then in market collapse) and the banking crisis that followed.

    Between them they are the hallmarks of financial crisis that brought on the nasty recession.

    To find out why, we need to do a little arithmetic.

    High Oil Prices and the Economy

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down personal consumption expenditures (PCEs) on energy versus other items on a month-by-month basis.

    The PCE on energy goods (which include natural gas and electricity) rose from 5.05% of total PCE in 2004 to 5.88% in 2007 and 6.31% in 2008. When oil prices peaked in July 2008 PCE hit a maximum monthly level of 7.01%.

    Thus taking the increase from 2007 to the highest month in 2008, energy PCE rose by 1.13 % of total PCE, or about $115 billion on an annualized basis.

    That sounds like a lot of money, but it's well under 1% of GDP.

    For example, it's less than the estimated $152 billion cost of former President Bush's ineffective 2008 tax rebate stimulus.

    Indeed, it is one-seventh the size of President Obama's stimulus the following year, which didn't have much visible effect. Thus the high oil prices of 2008 might have made the difference between marginal growth and marginal decline, which according to the "butterfly effect" of chaos theory could have caused other larger changes.

    However, high oil prices were certainly not sufficient to push an otherwise healthy economy into recession.

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