Should We Be Worried About Iran?
If the Iranian government makes good on its recent threats to stop oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices would shoot up $20 to $30 a barrel within hours and the price of gasoline in the United States would rise by $1 a gallon.
Such a steep spike in crude oil prices would plunge the United States and Europe back into recession, said Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors.
Iran just concluded a 10-day military exercise intended to prove to the West that it can choke off the flow of Persian Gulf oil whenever it wants.
The world's fourth-biggest oil producer is unhappy with fresh U.S. financial sanctions that will make it harder to sell its oil, which accounts for half of the government's revenue.
"Tehran is making a renewed political point here. The message is - we can close this anytime we want to," said Moors, who has studied Iran for more than a decade. "The oil markets are essentially ignoring the likelihood at the moment, but any increase in tensions will increase risk assessment and thereby pricing."
One reason the markets haven't reacted much to Iran's latest rhetoric is that although it has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz many times over the past 20 years, it has never followed through on the threat.
But a fresh wave of Western sanctions could hurt Iran's economy enough to make Tehran much less cautious.
The latest sanctions, signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday, will make it far more difficult for refiners to buy crude oil from Iran. And looming on the horizon is further action by the European Union (EU), which next month will consider an embargo of Iranian oil.
"The present United Nations, U.S. and EU sanctions have already had a significant toll," said Moors. "They have effectively prevented Iranian access to main international banking networks. Iran now has to use inefficient exchange mechanisms."
Because international oil trade is conducted in U.S. dollars, Moors said, Iran must have a convenient way to convert U.S. dollars into its home currency or other currencies it needs, such as euros.
Pushed to the BrinkThe impact of the sanctions combined with internal political instability has driven Iran to turn up the volume on its rhetoric.
"Tehran has limited options remaining," Moors said, noting Iran has historically used verbal attacks on the West to distract its population from the country's problems. "The Iranian economy is seriously weakening, the political division among the ayatollahs is increasing, and unrest is rising."
Analysts worry an Iranian government that feels cornered would be more prone to dangerous risk-taking in its dealings with the West. So while totally shutting down the Strait of Hormuz isn't likely, Iran could still escalate a confrontation beyond mere talk.
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2012 Oil Price Outlook: How to Profit From $150 Oil
2011 was an up-and-down year for oil prices, but don't expect that pattern to repeat in 2012.
No, next year, the trajectory for oil prices will be far more linear - and it's pointed up.
In fact, we could even see $150 oil by mid-summer.
There are two key reasons why:
- Despite the economic crisis in Europe, oil demand proved resilient in 2011. It is poised to remain steady in 2012, and then escalate drastically for the foreseeable future.
- Supplies will once again be constrained, and the potential for political upheaval in major oil-producing nations has increased.
Indeed, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) recently recommended that traders buy July 2012 Brent crude futures in anticipation of a rally to $120 a barrel. It was one of the bank's top six trades for 2012 published in its "Global Economics Weekly" report.
Barclays Capital agrees.
"Even in the worst case scenario, the downside to oil prices is unlikely to be anything as severe as during the 2008-2009 cycle," Barclays analysts Roxana Molina and Amrita Sen wrote in a report earlier this year. "As a result, we maintain our price forecast of $115 per barrel for Brent in 2012 and expect $90 per barrel to hold as a sustainable floor even under gloomy macroeconomic conditions."
As for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects it to average nearly $94 a barrel next year.
And even that's a conservative estimate.
"Given the oil volume constriction oncoming and the continuing increase in global demand - this drives the price, not North America or Western Europe - we will reach $150or beyond by July 4," said Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors.
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Why Oil Prices Won't Stay Down For Long
Oil prices, like stocks, took a few big hits last week.
West Texas Intermediate crude last week dropped below $80 a barrel before bouncing back up to $87 a barrel this week. Meanwhile, Brent crude fell to a six-month low below $100 a barrel before climbing back to $110 a barrel this week.
To hear the mainstream media tell it, much of the drop is based on the assumption that global growth is waning and oil demand is soon to follow.
But that couldn't be more wrong.
Energy is one of the most highly leveraged and most liquid trading vehicles on the planet. A good portion of the decline we've experienced in recent weeks can be explained by nothing more than trading houses raising cash to meet margin calls or redemption requests from hedge funds, pension funds, and other investors.
That's all there is to it. Firms simply need cash and are selling the most easily sellable assets they've got. In the past that's been gold, but lately it's been oil.
Longer-term, demand is still going up and $120 a barrel oil is our next stop, followed by prices of $150 or more in the years ahead.
What's happening now with the markets and energy prices is like being in the eye of a hurricane.
That is, it won't be long before we're once again caught up in the whirlwind growth of emerging markets and energy demand shoots sharply higher.
The Looming Demand DownpourGlobal demand is still rising - and it's not going to slow down any time soon. There are huge swaths of the world now adopting gasoline engines.
Let me give you two examples.
Take the farmers in Cambodia. Many put up sheets in their fields at sunset. They then mount small incandescent light bulbs on sticks behind the sheets. The bulbs are powered by small gasoline generators to ensure they stay on all night.
In the morning, those farmers go back and harvest the thousands of crickets that have collided with the sheet after having been drawn to the lights. They wrap up the fallen bugs and head to the markets where they are sold as food.
It's much the same situation in Africa, where small villages require simple engines to pump water.
You may think bugs and small farm pumps are no big deal, but there's an even greater energy revolution going on in the transportation industry.
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- What's Up With Drop in Oil Prices? Oil prices took a hit last week, falling as much as $10 a barrel in one day. Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald joined FoxBusiness' "Varney & Co." to analyze what last week's drop in oil prices means for investors and consumers, and to share his long-term oil market outlook. Read More...
Oil Prices Look to Top $150 by Midsummer On Resilient Demand and MENA Turmoil
Money Morning predicted in its 2011 Outlook series that oil prices would see $100 a barrel by summer. And that's proven to be true - but not entirely for the reasons we discussed.
In addition to the increased demand we talked about in January, violence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has driven oil prices into the stratosphere. The price of light, sweet crude climbed above $112 a barrel last week, up more than 22% from where it started the year.
A recent pullback has driven prices back down to about $107 a barrel, but don't be fooled. Strong demand in emerging markets, a weak dollar, political turmoil in the MENA region, and a strong speculative sentiment will continue to push oil prices higher.
How to Profit if the Nigeria Elections Drive Up Oil Prices
Oil prices are on the rise for a bevy of reasons - soaring demand in emerging markets, the weak dollar, and a strengthening U.S. recovery, to name a few.
However, supply disruptions and civil unrest in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region in recent months have had the biggest impact on oil prices. Egypt, Libya and Yemen have all played a part in driving up oil prices, and now they're about to be joined by another volatile oil producer.
I'm talking about Nigeria.
Buy, Sell or Hold: Suncor (NYSE: SU) Energy Inc. Is an Oil Gusher with Limited Risk
If you are looking for a mining company that generates energy with its own diversified refinery division, wholly owned pipelines, and a retail gas station network, then Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE: SU) should be at the top of your list.
Here are just a few reasons why:
- Suncor offers diverse and reliable production at a time when civil unrest in the Middle East has increased uncertainty in the energy market.
- It's leveraged to higher oil prices.
- It's transparent
- And it's reducing its debt.
Obama Energy Policy Boosts Natural Gas Stocks
U.S. President Barack Obama addressed Georgetown University students Wednesday with a speech about U.S. energy policy. Many of his goals were the same as previous U.S. government energy policies: cut foreign oil dependence, promote energy conservation, and explore alternative fuels.
However, it was the president's comments regarding natural gas that had the biggest impact on energy markets.
The natural gas contract for May delivery gained 9 cents, more than 2%, to $4.356 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange following Obama's speech Wednesday.
Libyan Rebels May Oust Gadhafi, but the Fight Against Higher Oil Prices is Lost
Information has surfaced that forces opposing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi secured the major oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf (both port cities on the Mediterranean).
The Libyan rebels now control oil fields producing between 100,000 and 130,000 barrels a day, and they say that will quickly increase to 300,000, with exports renewing in a week. That higher figure would account for about 19% of daily exports from Libya before the unrest started.
To the extent that anti-Gadhafi forces can secure the oil fields presently under their control, at least some of those exports should begin to flow again.
Buy, Sell or Hold: The Libya Crisis and Record Oil Prices Will Ground United Continental Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: UAL)
The growing Middle East unrest - and the impact that the turmoil and the resulting uncertainty is having on global oil prices - is clobbering the airline sector's bottom line. The crisis is far from over, and the implications of the higher fuel costs have not yet been fully discounted by the market.
The bottom line: It's time to sell United Continental Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: UAL) - before it breaks down to new levels of weakness (**).
The Middle East Crisis: Egypt, Libya and Triple-Digit Oil Prices
Given the events that we've seen in Egypt and elsewhere in recent weeks - as well as the developments we've seen in Libya in recent days - there's only one conclusion to reach.
We are right now looking at the prospect of significant and sustained instability in a region that's home to two-thirds of the world's known crude oil reserves.
The Middle East crisis - and the unsettling reality it represents - has already sent tremors through the international energy sector. Oil prices are on the march. And this is merely the beginning.
The problems will likely get much worse.
But forewarned is forearmed: Even if the Middle East crisis continues to escalate, we can predict how the global energy sector will be affected. In fact, if the crisis reaches the severity that I'm expecting, it will send the world's energy sector through three very predictable phases.
And each of those phases affords investors with very specific profit opportunities - if they know what to expect.
For the three phases to watch for, please read on...
2011 Oil Prices Prompting Energy Consumption Concerns Among Readers
With oil prices moving higher, consumers are already fretting about how much it's going to cost them to fill their tanks. And given the current outlook, that cost is going to head even higher - meaning there's no relief in sight.
The political mayhem in Egypt is the latest oil-price catalyst to appear, and is yet another candidate to help push 2011 oil prices closer to the predicted $150-a-barrel level. Analysts worry that Egypt's chaos could disrupt the millions of barrels of oil that pass through the Suez Canal.
Traders' main unease is that the political unrest in Egypt is something that could occur in neighboring countries - especially those with a much bigger influence on the global oil exporting market.
Buy, Sell or Hold: Brigham Exploration Co. (Nasdaq: BEXP) is a Strong Growth Play Poised to Profit from Higher Oil Prices
The energy crisis of 2008 - during which oil prices climbed to $147 per barrel before falling to the low $30s - led to some big rewards for investors locked in to the right companies. But with oil prices again approaching $100 a barrel, it's important to remember that not all oil plays are profit machines.
However, one company that is worth watching is Brigham Exploration Co. (Nasdaq: BEXP).
Brigham is an oil & gas exploration company that's focused on the Bakken Formation in the Montana and North Dakota area of the United States. The company operates on an area of about 200,000 acres and says it could have as many as 1,600 drilling locations on its Bakken property. I would be shocked if it ended up drilling 25% of those locations, but it is always nice to know that there is a solid inventory of prospects waiting in the wings.
Brigham has turned the Bakken into one of the largest on shore fields in America, and the oil that's now being produced there is increasingly valuable. However, equally valuable is the proprietary knowledge Brigham has derived from the project.
Politics – Not Oil Prices – Are What's Behind the Deepwater Drilling Debate
With oil prices rising and the Gulf oil spill fading from the forefront of the American psyche, deepwater drilling is set to emerge as a very hot, and very controversial topic in the months ahead - particularly among Republican representatives.
The GOP traditionally has been the party that supports the development of fossil fuels, while Democrats tend to push for more environmental regulation and a move toward renewable resources.
Right now, oil industry lobbyists believe higher prices warrant more drilling off the U.S. coast, but environmental groups, congressional Democrats, the Obama administration - which relaxed drilling restrictions just months before BP PLC's (NYSE ADR: BP) disastrous spill - aren't likely to agree.
In fact, lawmakers are already sniping at one another, spurred by the findings of U.S. President Obama's oil spill commission, which was tasked with investigating the Gulf oil spill.