Nomura Thinks the Price of Oil could Hit $220. What Do You Think?
From the UK Telegraph:
Nomura's commodity team said oil prices risk vaulting to uncharted highs over coming weeks if chaos hits Algeria as well, reducing global spare capacity to the wafer-thin margins seen just before the first Gulf War.
On Wednesday, Brent crude rose more than 5pc to almost $112 a barrel, threatening levels that could derail the global economy. It closed at $111.25.
"We could see $220 a barrel should both Libya and Algeria halt oil production. We could be underestimating this as speculative activiites were largely not present in 1990-1991," said Michael Lo, the bank's oil strategist.
The warning came as Italy's ENI announced a suspension of supplies through Libya's gas pipeline, and a string of foreign companies evacuated staff and shut production. Libya holds Africa's biggest oil reserves and produces 1.6m barrels a day (b/d), mostly for export to Europe.
The German driller Winthershall halted its 100,000 b/d production in Libya, while ENI stopped at a string of sites, vastly reducing its flow of 550,000 b/d. A number of producers have declared "force majeure".
Barclays Capital said 1m b/d of Libyan output is "shut in", with the other 0.6m at risk. While Saudi Arabia can step in by raising output, this takes time and its oil is not a substitute for Libya's "sweet crude".
The escalating crisis set off further falls on global bourses. Wall Street was down 1pc in early trading and the FTSE 100 fell 1.2pc. The Dow has shed more than 300 points over the past three days to 12,075.
Nomura said a shut-down in both Libya and Algeria would cut global supply by 2.9m b/d and reduce OPEC spare capacity to 2.1m b/d, comparable with levels at the onset of the Gulf War and worse than during the 2008 spike, when prices hit $147.
Both price shocks preceeded – or triggered – a recession in Europe and the US. Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, said the latest price rise had already become a "serious risk" for the fragile economies of the OECD bloc.
Some analysts fear the underlying picture is worse that officially recognised, doubting Saudi claims of ample spare capacity. A Wikileaks cable cited comments by a geologist for the Saudi oil giant Aramco that the kingdom's reserves had been overstated by 40pc. A second cable cited US diplomats asking whether the Saudis "any longer have the power to drive prices down for a prolonged period".
Nomura's report, which does not examine the catastrophic scenario of a full-blown Gulf crisis, said past oil shocks have shown a three-stage pattern, with a final blow-off in prices in the final phase. The current crisis is at stage one.
Surging oil prices create a nasty dilemma for central banks since they are inflationary if caused by robust global growth, but deflationary if caused by a supply crunch that acts as a tax on consuming nations. The big oil exporters tend to save extra revenues from price spikes at first, so the initial effect is to drain global demand.
The current picture contains elements of both, with an added twist of liquidity created by the US Federal Reserve that is leaking into the global system and playing havoc with commodity pricing.
US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said on Wednesday that the world economy is stong enough to "handle" the oil shock, insisting that central banks "have a lot of experience in managing these things".
The European Central Bank (ECB) responded to the oil spike in July 2008 by raising rates even though Germany and Italy were in recession by then. Nout Wellink, the ECB's Dutch governor, said this had been a policy error.
Circumstances are different this time yet also murky. ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet signalled last month that the bank will "look through" the short-term price hump, but ECB rhetoric has since turned more hawkish. Fed doves will undoubtedly give more weight to the deflationary risks.
Jeremy Leggett, a leader of the UK industry task force on peak oil and energy security, said the Mid-East crisis "shows the extreme fragility of the global system. People don't realise how close we are to a potential precipice if this unrest reaches critical mass in enough OPEC countries. Governments need to draw up emergency plans and get cracking on proactive measures while we still have time," he said.
Charles Robertson at Renaissance Capital said the real concern nagging investors is what will happen in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, the home of the kingdom's restless Shi'ite minority. The Saudis produce 11.6pc of world output, but a much higher share of exports.
"There is potential for serious tension, and not just among the Shia. High unemployment and the youth bulge means unrest could be country-wide. If Saudi Arabia or Iran are engulfed, we have a serious problem."
On Wednesday Saudi King Abdullah unveiled $11bn of welfare projects for his people.