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By Robert Rapier on Dec 4, 2009 with no responses

The Looming Spike in Crude Prices

Lots of very crazy stuff going on behind the scenes that’s been keeping me very distracted, and writing to a minimum. Fortunately, Money Morning sent me a very timely essay this morning on crude prices. This one takes aim at the API. While I have a cordial relationship with the API, like Kent Moors who wrote the article below I think their crude production projects are way too optimistic. Of course I say the same thing about projections from the EIA, IEA, and pretty much any organization that predicts that we are going to have a major increase in production from today’s rates. My position for the past 5 years has been that the top is pretty close to 90 million barrels/day, give or take a few million. Some of these organizations are predicting that we will be able to produce over 100 million bpd, and I just don’t see it.

Anyway, as I previously explained topical Money Morning content will be featured here from time to time. As always, normal caveats apply: I am not an investment advisor; these stories are meant to spur discussion.
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Profit From the Looming Spike in Crude Prices That the U.S. Oil Lobby Doesn’t See Coming

By Kent Moors, Ph.D. Contributing Editor Money Morning

John Felmy has been the chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute (API) for years. He’s well respected. And I appreciate his experience. But the two of us disagree more often these days.

We most recently locked horns at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, last week, where we were debating the future of oil. (Actually, when the invitation was made, I was supposed to debate Sarah Palin. But she pulled out to go on the road and pitch a book she didn’t write.)

Nonetheless, something disturbing emerged from the debate.

I still find John a pleasant enough fellow, but the mantra coming from the API, the mouthpiece of the oil industry, is wearing thin. They want us to believe that the oil market is still fine, still humming along, still providing the best energy value. You’ve heard the argument before: Gasoline is cheaper than milk or bottled water.

This time, John tried the latest API version of this sleight of hand: Whatever price you need to pay, oil is still cheap, still plentiful, still the energy of choice.

Sorry folks, the API just doesn’t get it. And what it refuses to get is becoming one of the most important factors investors in the energy sector will need to watch – carefully. This is all about supply and demand. But it’s not the traditional lecture from Econ 101.

This one is going to roll out differently.

Over the next several months, oil will begin losing its balance. As it falls off the wagon, risk will escalate. And that will require greater due diligence by investors. But as the risk increases, so will the number of opportunities. I’ll show you how to profit from them as they surface.

But first, here’s the problem with the API’s approach.

“Suspect” Figures Are Way Off

As John grudgingly admitted in our exchange, the API’s figures are becoming “suspect.” I have a less charitable view. (Unlike John, I don’t work for them.)

The API figures are way off.

They still portray a view of demand (low) and supply (high) that will not continue to square with reality. We have had lower demand for months only because of the financial crisis and the credit crunch. But this has had nothing to do with the oil market as such.

Others are catching on.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), for example, has already admitted its supply estimates were too optimistic while its view of demand was too conservative. The IEA revisions have been paralleled in similar moves by the London Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES), Russia’s Institute for Energy Strategy (IES), and even Washington’s usually impervious Energy Information Administration (EIA).

There’s a reason for this.

Worldwide oil demand, while sluggish, is nonetheless returning more quickly than anticipated. In addition to the usual suspects – China, India, a resurgence in the Far East – OPEC countries are retaining more of their own production to diversify their economies. Russia is facing rising domestic needs at the same time it tries to avoid a significant decline in crude production. Mexico is witnessing a meltdown in its oil sector while its domestic needs also rise. And new major markets are exploding in places like West Africa and South America.

Notice this is not happening in the United States or Europe. These countries are no longer the driving forces in the oil market. The most developed markets are not calling the shots, despite still being over-weighted in the data collected. The IEA finally got that. So did CGES, IES, and even the EIA.

But not the API.

Indeed, the paid spokesperson for the American oil industry continues to see crude oil as the main option. True, it gives lip service these days to alternative and renewable energy. Moreover, given its position as the in-house spokesman for the hydrocarbon sector as a whole, it is also praising the virtues of natural gas as the immediate choice when we transit from crude oil.

Unfortunately, the API still fails to provide an accurate picture. Perhaps in the final analysis, this happens because its clients are the oil producers.

Oil’s (Profitable) Reality

We currently have about 86 million barrels a day in worldwide crude oil demand. That still represents a figure below pre-crisis levels. However, all of the organizations mentioned above (with the exception of the API) are now estimating a rise to around 87.5 million over the next year, with increases accelerating thereafter.

Current global supply, on the other hand, will max out at 91-92 million barrels. That gives us a small cushion – just a few years – before the real fireworks start. Period.

Because new volume coming on line will barely replace declining production from older fields, we have little prospect of avoiding insufficient supply producing a spike in crude oil prices. This is not necessarily a bad development from the investor’s perspective, since a volatile market will provide profit opportunities, especially if the direction in price remains sustainable over any period of time.

The impact on other market sectors, of course, will be less positive.

The key here is to recognize the major benchmarks and triggers, along with early changes in what they tell us. These will not all be moving in the same direction as the unwinding ratchets into high gear. But we will be able to identify when they are changing and, more importantly, how to profit from them.

I’ll be discussing the strategy as it unfolds over the next several months.

I’ll show you, for example, how to spot a real oil-demand rise in the American market before it becomes apparent to everybody else. There are several approaches I will suggest as the market opens up. The best place to start is watching the leading economic indicators.

Actually, six of the 11 stats provided by the Department of Commerce are dependent upon, or reflect, changes in productivity and industrial needs. These are all also energy intensive. That means a rise in energy demand will precede the actual rise in the indicators. This is one of the early triggering mechanisms I use in my analysis and for making my estimates.

I’ll flag them for you as they emerge. And I’ll lay out how they impact the U.S. energy sector and related investments. There are quite different ways of early detection for other global markets, where the demand will be moving in more quickly.

Calls on investment alternatives will be very sensitive to changes in indicators and triggers. That means in energy, we need to stick to the trends. So stay tuned. The recommendations will follow in short order.

Just don’t expect to gain much traction from the API!

[Editor's Note: Dr. Kent Moors, now a regular contributor to Money Morning, is the executive managing partner of Risk Management Associates International LLP, a full-service global management consulting and executive training firm. He is an internationally recognized expert in global risk management, oil/natural gas policy and finance, cross-border capital flows, emerging market economic and fiscal development, political, financial and market risk assessment, as well as new techniques in energy risk management.

Dr. Moors has been an advisor to the highest levels of the U.S., Russian, Kazakh, Bahamian, Iraqi and Kurdish governments, to the governors of several U.S. states and the premiers of two Canadian provinces, a consultant to private companies, financial institutions and law firms in 25 countries and has appeared more than 1,400 times as a featured television and radio commentator in North America, Europe and Russia. He has appeared on ABC, BBC, Bloomberg TV, CBS, CNN, NBC, Russian RTV, and regularly on Fox Business Network.

Moors next columns will be written from Moscow and London, where he'll be talking to officials, company executives, traders and bankers. Russia is about to signal a major change in oil and gas development strategy, while recent events in London are signaling a new oil pricing approach.]