Just to warn you, this post will be a bit lengthy, but may be incredibly insightful for some. First off, it looks like Ed has predicted a hike to $1.99. We’ll see if he’s right on… if you can get gas for around $1.80, fill up like I did tonight just in case. I’m not completely sold on a price hike, but we will see what happens.
Now to explain my post title. Was there a ship leak or some accident? No. There ARE 80 million barrels of oil floating on the sea protected by a thin layer of steel, sitting in huge supertankers. According to Bloomberg, Frontline Ltd., the world’s biggest owner of said tankers has made this claim. It would be the most oil stored at sea in 20 years, as traders seek to cash in on higher prices later in the year.
This is an idea that carries a good amount of risk if you ask me… but you don’t make money without risk. Oil prices haven’t really started a good climb yet this year, and prices have largely given up most of their gains they made the last two weeks. These supertankers are huge ships that cost large amounts of money to lease but some can hold well over a million barrels of oil. If prices jump $10/bbl, there’s a large amount to be gained. However, with oil supplies in Cushing, Oklahoma nearly at capacity (the delivery point for contracts traded on the NYMEX), what’s going to happen? We’re already awash in oil, sitting nearly 40 million barrels above where we were JUST LAST YEAR! Crude oil in storage this week, as reported by the DOE, was 326.6 million barrels. Like I said, storage in Cushing, OK, was at 33 million barrels, with capacity of 34 million barrels. This represents a 20% GAIN in oil inventories there in just 4 WEEKS! How are these traders betting on higher prices in a few months when we’re lush with oil in a recession?
Figuring those 80 million barrels could go anywhere in the world, let’s figure half goes to the U.S., the world’s leading consumer of oil. If that 40 million barrels (which is doing nothing) would eventually end up at U.S. ports in a few weeks, we could have the most oil in storage since September 21, 1990!
Even WITHOUT the 40 million barrels, we’re already at our highest level of storage for a January since 1999, when demand was strong and the economy was surging ahead… remember the .com era? So many startup companies… and to see us at the same level of oil now with a much different outlook?
Let’s throw a name out here… a banking company that used to actively trade oil contracts (and bet on higher prices). Remember Goldman Sachs? The company whose analysts predicted $150 oil? What ever happened to them? They seem to have gotten out of the oil trading business. Goldman is now forecasting oil prices in the $30’s for quite some time. Do they have any obvious interests in oil now? Not that I can see- and crazy enough they’re actually making some sense with their seemingly non-biased oil price forecasts!
What’s this all got to do with gas prices?
Lets think it over. I’ll even format it so it’s easy to read:
- U.S. January oil inventories highest since 1999 and economic outlook is much worse than that of 1999
- 80 million barrels of crude oil haven’t even hit the market, owners betting on higher prices
- Gasoline inventories healthy
- Excluding 2006 and two weeks in 2007, oil inventories (including SPR) are at their highest levels EVER
- Gasoline demand down 3-4%
- Diesel demand down 4-5%
- Jet fuel demand down 12-15%
- OPEC countries need to pump more to generate revenues
- Refinery utilization at just 85% and we’re still putting plenty of gasoline into storage
Point is-with such great news on the shape of oil inventories, how can oil and/or gasoline make a spring run-up in prices? Ed’s bet that we’d see $2 gas before we saw $1 gas is nearly the OFFICIAL winner, but I still think prices have more room to fall.
My short-term bet on oil (the next two months) is that prices fluctuate between $30-$45, but we may briefly break the $30 barrier. A gasoline prediction? I’ve already had that bet with Ed. Once he wins, MAYBE I’ll make another prediction.