Oil Debate Series - Part 3
Today we have the last part in the three-part series focusing on oil. Again, we hope that you have enjoyed our debate, and look forward to possibly having more debate-style discussions in the future.
Question #5: How will the current energy situation impact America’s relationship with oil?
BB: More than anything, this recession has forced the general public to look in a mirror and see that there is a severe problem. Our addiction to oil has been justified or excused in the past, but no longer. The public— I believe — is ready to admit the problem and look for solutions. One interesting plan was proposed just the other day by billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens, who is advocating a shift away from foreign oil towards wind power and natural gas (from within the US). It is one of many potential plans being put forth as a way to wean America off of its dependency on foreign oil. Another thing to point out is the timing of this recession. 2008 is an election year where either candidate is more likely to push a more progressive energy agenda than the former president. As a result, many are hopeful that between a more forward-thinking government and a more concerned public will lead to dramatic change in the next decade or so. Despite the best efforts of the current presidential administration, the problems of climate change and high energy costs are now front and center in the public’s conscience, and the next administration will likely pursue “greener” energy policies. I expect that with the next twenty years, America will cut its foreign oil imports by at least 15%. Through the development of more efficient cars and an overall dedication towards cleaner energy sources, I think that the current energy situation will successfully help the US become less dependent on oil, though it may take some time to see pronounced effects.
JK: Americans addiction to oil will continue until the price rises to a point that eliminates demand. The public is not serious about eliminating their carbon footprint. If they were, then lawns would be brown and a victory garden would grace every house. This leads to the conclusion that Americans will not change their way of life until forced too. Americans can not continue their way of life on wind, solar, or wave power. The amount of electricity generated by these sources is minimal and our entire energy infrastructure is not designed for it. If greener technology is to be undertaken then the entire infrastructure needs to be changed, which will happen as a result of sky high oil not a moral imperative. Boone Pickens made the wind power investment to generate stable revenue; he is looking to turn a profit not save the world. Profits are the American way, hope and change is nice but useless without employment. If America’s addiction to oil is too be cured nuclear energy, car pooling, and public transit will play a much larger role. Oil imports will not decrease until cold fusion is invented, or the price is too high. No matter what happens in the long run the short run will continue to be painful. Our relationship with oil will continue to be an expensive love hate relationship. The current price increase will cure the disease but it is a chemo therapy cure for the cancer of oil addiction.
Question #6: Is there any way that oil prices will fall dramatically in the near future?
JK: The price of oil has fallen $9 in two days; however don’t expect this to persist. The price of oil will continue to go up for the simple fact that oil’s rise is demand based. The current dip is a hiccup within the market, the trend has not changed. One of the rules of FX is don’t trade against the trend, this applies to commodities as well. The only way for the price to fall is for demand to diminish, which happens when the price rises. OPEC producers are concerned with the price of oil because they know that the farther it goes up the more alternative sources become profitable. Hence the Saudi output increase because if demand diminishes then so do Saudi coffers. Some will blame speculators whose profit is based on positions based on the direction of oil. No oil changes hand only cash, they are not hoarding oil just taking a position. Blaming speculators is like saying that gamblers affect the direction of a baseball game. Speculators do not influence the price of oil; they profit from it, and lose from it. All commodities have doubled over the last couple of years, and their rise has been demand driven. The transparency of expectations that futures contracts create help airlines and chemical companies secure lower financing to expand production. The price of Oil will not fall in the future until demand diminishes, or supply increases. With all producers at almost full capacity, the demand side of the equation is the only adjustable factor. The only solution is a fall in demand which will not happen at the current price. There is no easy solution, but a bad solution is more regulation. A popular policy that would hurt individuals because clarity would diminish and financing costs for transportation and airlines would increase. Speculation is a hedge used by these industries for future price increases and taking it away would cripple them.
BB: It’s very unlikely… but stranger things have happened. One man quite familiar with global markets, George Soros, has expressed his belief that the current oil prices are a bubble, which would imply that a large fall in price will eventually come. However, I find this hard to imagine happening anytime soon. If the demand for oil persists at or near current levels, why would the price dramatically drop? John is right about this… the price won’t fall until demand does. Unless there is some sort of shock (a new invention, new legislation, etc.), the price is not likely to fall back down. Eventually, however, there will be a point when the price of oil has reached an unsustainable high. At that time, enough people will have finally been “priced out” of using oil in their everyday lives, and as a result, the demand will slowly start to go down. However, this scenario is only likely to play out if we continue today’s trends of increasing supply, demand, and prices. Should we find a way to buck those trends, perhaps by utilizing alternative energy sources, then the process of falling price of oil could happen sooner. I ultimately view oil falling in price as inevitable; one day, we will wake up and there will be none left. However, in the short run, I do not foresee any reprieve for energy costs.