The Great Debate

Will oil prices stabilize around $80?

Most commentators and oil analysts are convinced a further rise in prices is inevitable in the next few years as emerging market consumption grows and supplies increasingly come from more costly and technically challenging sources such as ultra-deepwater.

While there are disagreements about the extent and the timing of price changes, there is a remarkable degree of consensus about the direction: up. But the roller-coaster experience of the last five years should have taught forecasters to be much more cautious about extrapolating trends and assuming the future direction is obvious.

Price forecasts are notoriously unreliable. There are simply too many variables and too much uncertainty about the current state of the market let alone how supply and demand will evolve in future. The crucial role of expectations in price formation adds an element to “reflexivity” which is hard for forecasters to anticipate or model accurately.

Reflexivity is a concept attributed to billionaire financier George Soros, in which perceptions of market direction and market fundamentals influence one another.

Forecasters’ confidence prices can only increase in future seems misplaced. On closer inspection, many of the factors which make price rises seem inevitable are flawed or unpersuasive. At present there are no fundamental reasons oil prices must increase above the current level of around $80 per barrel in real terms (once inflation and exchange rate changes are taken into account). Nor is there any reason to expect a spike in prices similar to 2008.

Quantitative easing and the commodity markets

-The views expressed are the author’s own-

A warning by an International Energy Agency (IEA) analyst this week that quantitative easing (QE) risked inflating nominal commodity prices and derailing the recovery drew a withering response from Nobel Economics Laureate Paul Krugman, who labelled the unfortunate analyst the “worst economist in the world”.

According to New York Times columnist Krugman “Higher commodity prices will hurt the recovery only if they rise in real terms. And they’ll only rise in terms if QE succeeds in raising real demand. And this will happen only if, yes, QE2 is successful in helping economic recovery”.

Krugman’s criticism is unfair. There are clear links between QE and investor appetite for commodity derivatives and physical stocks (via the Federal Reserve’s “portfolio balance” effect), and from investors’ holdings of derivatives and physical inventories to cash prices (given the relatively inelastic supply and demand for raw materials in the short term).

from The Great Debate UK:

Obama risks South-American style economic decline

richard-wellings- Richard Wellings is Deputy Editorial Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Argentina should be an object lesson for the U.S.

A century ago, it was one of the richest countries in the world. Today, it has fallen far behind Europe and North America, after a hundred years marked by long periods of recession.

Faced with economic crisis, for example during World War I and the Great Depression, Argentina’s politicians turned to socialism. Lame-duck industries were subsidised and protected from competition, and policy was often driven by powerful vested interests such as the trade unions.

Bleak outlook for U.S. oil refiners

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Even by the standards of a deep-cyclical industry, the “golden age” of oil refining has proved remarkably brief, lasting no more than three years, before giving way to a new dark age.

Particularly in the United States, refiners have returned to the state of chronic unprofitability that plagued the industry before 2005.