Thursday, May 22, 2008

Soaring oil prices- are analysts to blame?

Are high-profile analysts responsible for oil price soaring past $130? One analyst who's frequently mentioned is an Indian, Arjun Murti, who works for Goldman Sachs. Murti is credited with having forecast the rise past $100 long back- now he's looking at $200 in the near future. FT has a report on this:

Ali Naimi has been the most powerful man in the oil market since he was named Saudi Arabia’s oil minister in 1995. Even the smallest hint from him about future supplies or prices could send energy prices spiralling up or down.

But Mr Naimi’s influence is today being threatened by a gang of Wall Street and the City of London analysts whose price forecasts and trade recommendations are not only moving spot prices but also shaping long-term trends.

Three weeks ago, Mr Murti suggested that crude oil prices could hit $200 in the next two years.

“The current energy crisis may be coming to a head,” he said on May 5. This immediately sent spot prices to a new record, but also triggered an unprecedented rally in long-term prices such as contracts for delivery in 2016. The bullish trend was reinforced last Friday when Mr Currie told investors to buy long-term crude oil futures, warning that “long-term oil prices will need to continue to rise to bring trend oil demand growth in line with trend supply growth”.

I have said before: speculation is an element in the rise in oil prices but the root cause is a imbalance in supply and demand. The imbalance is small but in commodities small imbalances suffice to create huge swings in prices. I would also mention geopolitical factors: nervousness over the Middle East and especially Iran.

How high will oil prices go? As far as the US can stomach, to put it bluntly. George Bush's visit to Saudi Arabia elicited a commitment from the Saudis to step up output. That and weakening demand from China in the coming months should rectify the supply-demand gap in the near future. The medium-term outlook is hard to call.

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