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One of the biggest headlines recently related to oil companies was news of the passing of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"El Commandante" as he was affectionately referred to by his countrymen, at least by those who approved of his leftist policies, was 58 and succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer.
Predictably, news of Chavez's passing has sparked ample speculation about what the future holds for Venezuela's oil industry and those oil companies looking to profit from a possible renaissance there.
Venezuela is South America's largest oil producer and an OPEC member. In what may come as a surprise to some investors, Venezuela could be called the Saudi Arabia of OPEC.
In other words, the South American nation is home to about 300 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, compared to about 270 billion barrels in Saudi Arabia. That is according to OPEC's own estimate.
Not only that, but Venezuela is home to the largest natural gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere.
Given those superlatives, it is easy to understand why some Western oil companies are cautiously optimistic about what the future may hold for them in Venezuela.
Buy, Sell or Hold: Strong Oil Prices Make Apache Corp. a Good Bet
In fact, since April 2011 Apache shares are down by 44%. Compared to its peers, that makes Apache what's known as a "laggard."
But there is more here than meets the eye, since it is very hard to find anything to nit-pick when it comes to their financials.
Fundamentally speaking, the company seems on solid ground, which is why I'm willing to buy Apache shares.
In fact, even after an $18 billion flurry of acquisitions over the last couple of years, Apache's balance sheet still remains strong while adding new layers of growth potential.
And as one of the world's largest independent energy companies, Apache continues to report healthy cash flows, strong profit margins, and has a forecasted sales growth of 8.1% for 2013.
So why haven't investors been willing to buy, even when the company appears to be doing all the right things?
The answer is two-fold: Oil prices and the skittish political situation hovering over their oil rigs in Egypt.
Why Bigger Isn't Always Better in the Oil Business
Forty years ago, British economist E. F. Schumacher wrote that "Small is Beautiful" in a famous book by the same name.
The vision champions market approaches that discount the importance of size to results, a philosophy that contrasted the notion that "Bigger is Better."
In bringing the idea of his teacher (Leopold Kohr) to a broader canvass and a wider audience, Schumacher began a debate that has revolved around the impact of technology and market size ever since.
Just last weekend, the debate renewed.
Again it was an English environment, but the subject matter would have been quite unexpected only a few years ago. This time the occasion was our annual energy consultations at Windsor Castle outside London. The debate focused on both size and profitability of oil companies in the development of new fields.
The key lesson: During expanding times in the oil business, like today, small is not only beautiful.
It is also profitable.
And it can be for you as well if you take the time to learn why...
What's Keeping Oil Prices Down – for Now, at Least
Sequestration, production concerns in China and the political mess in Italy have combined to keep oil prices down, says Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors.
Speaking on CNBC, Moors said the oil market is now "slightly oversold."
Moors said increased demand and less refinery capacity being used could increase the oil crack spread in the United States, leading to higher energy prices even if oil prices fall.
Asked why energy prices are so high, Moors said there are six or seven major factors.
"The bottom line," he said, "is we have to stop looking at Western Europe and North America when we talk about oil demand because oil demand is being driven essentially worldwide by completely different regions."
Among them, Moors said, is West Africa, where oil demand is spiking.
Watch the accompanying video to hear Moors talk more about global oil prices and how they will affect you.
Australia Shale Oil Discovery Continues the Country's "Lucky" Streak
Investors are well aware of the shale oil revolution in the United States. But the "revolution" does not end here; it is spreading globally to countries as diverse as China and Poland.
There is one country in particular though that may experience circumstances similar to the United States, if not greater.
I'm talking about Australia, which has often been called "The Lucky Country." That description was first penned in 1964 by Donald Horne and he actually meant it negatively at the time.
But in recent decades, the term has been given a positive spin thanks to Australia's abundance of natural resources and its geographical location near the world's biggest consumer of commodities - China.
And Australia may have struck luck again thanks to the recent announcement of a massive shale oil discovery.
The Arckaringa Basin Could Be the Largest Shale Oil Find of All Time
Over the past few days, I have released information on what could be the largest shale oil find ever recorded.
It's located in an area of Australia called the Arckaringa Basin and contains as much as 233 billion barrels (or more) of recoverable shale oil.
That's more than all of the estimated oil in Iran, Iraq, Canada, or Venezuela. And it's just 30 billion barrels shy of the estimated reserves in all of Saudi Arabia.
The discovery at the Arckaringa basin is so big it's already prompting some observers to begin talking about energy independence for Australia, much in the same way Americans did after similar discoveries in the Bakken, Marcellus, Eagle Ford, and Utica basins.
And there is one small company that controls what is shaping up to be the biggest worldwide oil project to hit in decades.
How China and Saudi Arabia Mean You Should Bet on Higher Oil Prices
As Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors pointed out not long ago, the sky is not falling on oil prices despite what the doomsayers believe.
There are two crucial countries that are behind the recent rise in oil prices: China and Saudi Arabia.
And if these two nations keep on their current path, it will mean one thing...
Even higher oil prices in 2013. Here's why.
After Nexen's Buyout, How Should You Play Canadian Oil Sands Stocks?
The purchase of Calgary-based energy company Nexen Inc. (NYSE: NXY) for $15.1 billion by China's CNOOC Ltd. (NYSE ADR: CEO) is the largest overseas purchase ever by the world's second-biggest economic power.
But it will likely be the last time China, or any other country, takes a big chunk out of Canada's oil sands - the world's third-largest proven reserves of crude oil.
That's because after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved the Nexen deal in December, he banned further foreign firms' investment in Canada's oil sands and will allow them only under "exceptional" circumstances.
"The government's concern and discomfort for some time has been that very quickly, a series of large-scale controlling transactions by foreign state-owned companies could rapidly transform this [oil sands] industry from one that is essentially a free market to one that is effectively under control of a foreign government," Harper said in December.
"Foreign state control of oil sands development has reached the point at which further such foreign state control would not be of net benefit to Canada," he added.
But foreign government control isn't the real problem facing Canadian oil sands companies.
Two Reasons to Expect Greater Volatility in Oil Prices
A combination of rising demand and tension in the Middle East means oil prices will continue to climb.
How this plays out in the short term will have a primary impact on the profitability of oil sector investments. One conclusion is already clear. This will once again be a volatile market.
And this time, volatility will be point upward.
That is not to say that the rise will be continuous or without occasional pull backs. In fact, yesterday we witnessed two contrary signals attesting to an ongoing collision of forces.
Both of these are exogenous to market factors, a very important observation to recognize moving forward.
The direct relationship between supply and demand would oblige a rise in oil prices for the simple reason that more end use is moving back into focus.
Both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC have raised demands projections for the near term. Those levels are now approaching less than 3 million barrels per day of global supply.
Now we are not going to have a crude shortage anytime soon, although there may be some regional constrictions on the horizon. Ample supplies are available for quick pumping to meet rising demand. Nonetheless, there will be a greater use of unconventional production (tight, shale, heavy, oil sands).
And that means the oil coming on market will be more expensive.
Knee-jerk reactions to global events will again pull on demand sentiment. That, in turn, will spike the volatility. Yet this is likely to be more subdued on the down side than at any time in the last year.
Pundits have also introduced the specter of another (or "double dip") recession and fanning the flames of that fear would prompt the price of oil to move south.
The likelihood of a recession is rapidly dissipating and the prospects of these fear tactics are declining along with that reality. Reversals, therefore, while still inevitable, will be short in nature so long as the current underlying dynamics remain. Those are now pointing up.
I have a series of personal indicators used to determine what should be happening with oil prices. There are 10 of them, designed to estimate the actual composition, strength, and direction of pricing movements. For the past month, six of them have been pointing positive. As of Friday (these are calculated at the end of each week), seven are now moving north.
The upward pressure is building, reflecting the overall higher revisions in forecasted demand by IEA and OPEC. Yet we are once again reminded that the oil market hardly operates in a vacuum.
And that leads me back to those two outside signals we received yesterday.
The Doomsayers Are Wrong About Oil Prices
The stock market is not the only thing that is up. Crude oil prices have jumped as well rising faster than the S&P for the past month.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) next month futures contract prices for crude oil on the NYMEX increased again last week. That marked the seventh consecutive week oil prices have gained, the first time that has happened since 2009. Overall, WTI pricing level has risen 11% since mid-December.
Now all of this means something pretty important. As we've known for a while now, the oil market has been oversold with values unusually low. This has largely resulted from concerns over demand related to the ongoing recovery/recession debate.
However, that debate has never been a particularly genuine one, certainly not for the last two quarters.
Yes, if we fell off a fiscal cliff or ran into a budgetary wall or failed to raise the debt ceiling and the living room chandelier fell on our heads there would be some substance in the Chicken Little approach to market analysis.
But we haven't, and, we won't.
With Congressional approval ratings just above those of Attila the Hun, they will slink in, kick some cans down the street, and slink out. That means the penumbra behind which the doomsayers have operated is no longer worth the smoke and mirrors it is based upon.
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