Lower Oil, Less Looking For It

You already know that oil prices are lower than they have been in a long time, in part because U.S. oil production is higher than it has ever been, and still climbing steeply. But you have to wonder how long these conditions will last, since lower oil prices make it less economical for oilfield services companies to drill.

The below chart, courtesy of the oilfield services company Baker Hughes, may be the most dramatic illustration of economic reality you will see this month. It shows how the U.S. has increased the millions of barrels of oil per day that we’re pumping out of U.S. soil in the past four years. Looking at the orange line rising ever-more-steeply, you wonder whether oil prices will ever go back up to previous levels.

CA - 2014-3-10 Oil Rigs Chart

But then you see the purple line, which tracks the number of active oil rigs that are out there looking for new sources of oil. The last quarter of 2014 and the first few months of this year have created a dramatic bear market for drilling rigs in action. In just two fiscal quarters, the number of rigs in the field has dropped almost by half, and there is no sign that the trend is slowing down.

What does that mean? Nothing in the short term, since the orange line represents existing production. But longer-term, you have to expect that fewer active rigs will mean fewer wells and, at the very least, a leveling out of that orange line. Oil prices may be down today, but that doesn’t mean supplies will outrun demand forever. Enjoy the low gas prices while you can.

If you would like to review your current investment management portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.

Source:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-06/oil-rigs-get-slammed-for-the-13th-week

TheMoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for writing this post.

Should We Fear—Or Cheer—Plunging Oil Prices?

Chances are, you’re celebrating today’s lower gas prices.  AAA reports that the national average price of gas is $2.48 today, the lowest since December 2009.  The result: an estimated $70 billion in direct savings for U.S. consumers over the next 12 months.  At previous prices, the average American was spending about $2,600 a year on gasoline, so the 20% price decline would result in $520 more to save or spend.

It gets better.  Even though gas prices (and, therefore, the cost of driving) have plummeted, the Internal Revenue Service is raising the standard mileage rates that people can deduct on their tax return for business travel, from 56 cents in 2014 to 57.5 cents per business mile driven next year.

Only the investment markets seem to think that cycling an extra $70 billion into the U.S. economy is a bad thing.  This past week, large cap stocks, represented by the S&P 500 index, saw their prices fall by 3.5%—their biggest drop since May 2012. Why?  The only possible explanation is that rapid Wall Street traders believe that lower oil prices will harm the economies of America’s trading partners, and therefore impact the U.S. economy indirectly.

So let’s take a closer look.  While U.S. consumers are cheering the decline in oil prices, and non-energy producing nations like Japan and countries in the Eurozone are seeing a boost in their economies, who’s NOT celebrating?

As it turns out, some of the biggest losers are American domestic shale oil producers, who basically break even when oil prices are at their current $50-$60 a barrel levels.  Any further drop in prices would slow down domestic energy production, and probably create a floor that would keep prices from falling much further.

Another big loser is the socialist government in Venezuela (remember Hugo Chavez?), which needs oil prices above $162 a barrel to pay for all of its social programs.  You can also sympathize with Iran, which reportedly needs oil prices to move up to $135 barrel to stay in the black, due to continuing sanctions from the world community over its nuclear program, and the high cost of supporting Hezbollah and its own military ventures in the Middle East.

The biggest loser is probably Russia, which requires oil prices of at least $100 a barrel for its budget to withstand international sanctions and finance its own military adventures against neighboring nations.  Economists are projecting that Russia will fall into a steep recession next year, when GDP could decline as much as 6%.  The nation is experiencing what economists call “capital outflows” of $125 billion a year—a fancy way of saying that wealthy Russians are taking money out of Russian banks and either investing abroad or putting their rubles in banks located in more stable foreign jurisdictions.  And in the process, they are exchanging their rubles for local currency, as a way to protect against the recent free-fall in Russia’s currency.  Bloomberg News recently published the below graphic which many Americans will find entertaining, but which is probably not happy news for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Fear or Cheer Plunging Oil Prices

It’s interesting that the markets seem to be worrying about low oil prices when the economies with the most to lose are not only less than minor trading partners, but actual political enemies of U.S. interests. Cheaper oil will eventually be regarded as a plus for our economic—and political—interests, but the downturn suggests that Wall Street traders are hair-trigger ready to be spooked by anything they regard as unusual.

If you would like to discuss your current portfolio or any financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch.

Sources:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/5-countries-that-will-be-the-biggest-losers-from-oils-slide-2014-11-20?page=2

http://blogs.piie.com/realtime/?p=4644

http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/irs-watch/irs-raises-standard-mileage-rate-for-businesses-72990-1.html?ET=webcpa:e3476082:a:&st=email&utm_content=buffer4179f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.forbes.com/sites/northwesternmutual/2014/11/27/lower-oil-prices-give-a-gift-to-consumers/

Cheap Oil Gets Cheaper

Dear Clients, Prospects & Friends:

The economic news that everybody is talking about lately is the sudden unexpected drop in oil prices.  One type of oil, West Texas Intermediate crude, has fallen from over $140 a barrel in the summer of 2008, and $115 a barrel as recently as June, down to $91, and there is no sign that the decline will stop there.

The price drop seems to be the result of a perfect storm of factors, both on the supply and demand side.  On the supply side, U.S. production has risen to the point where only Saudi Arabia extracts more oil from its soil.  In the recent past, America’s additional production was offset by sharp declines in production caused by the civil war in Libya, plus production declines in Iraq, Nigeria and the Sudan.  Those countries are now back in business, adding the production equivalent of 3 million barrels a day, a significant fraction of the 75 million barrels a day of global production.

On the demand side, meanwhile, China’s growth has fallen by half, European economies are weakening, and people everywhere are driving more fuel-efficient cars and living in more energy-efficient homes.

As always, a major shift in global economics is producing some winners and losers.  American consumers are among the most prominent winners, since they consume more oil and gas per capita than the citizens of any other country.  The stiff drop in oil prices this year has resulted in U.S. gasoline prices falling 26¢ to an average of $2.88 per gallon, down from $3.14 a month ago. That’s equivalent to a $40-billion tax cut that will benefit various the transportation sector, energy-dependent manufacturers and, of course, the handful of Americans who drive automobiles.

Lower energy prices are also a boon for countries that import a significant amount of crude, including India, which brings in roughly 85% of its oil, and Japan, which is importing oil again now that its nuclear reactor industry is on hiatus.

Losers?  You can expect the major oil companies to report lower profits in the months ahead, and the Russian economy which is heavily dependent on energy exports and already feeling the impact of an impending recession, is being crushed.  Surprisingly, some believe the biggest loser is Iran, whose social program spending and high costs of extraction imply a break-even well above today’s prices, estimated as high as $130 a barrel.

As mentioned earlier, oil prices could—and probably will—drop further.  But don’t believe the predictions that have popped up in the newspapers and on the financial TV stations of a new era of oil abundance.  Oil prices almost certainly won’t fall to pre-2007 prices, which can be seen on the accompanying chart.

Why?  According to the International Energy Agency, the capital cost of producing a unit of energy—that is, the cost of finding oil and gas, drilling for it (and hiring the people who will do these things, who are some of the best-paid workers in the world), moving it from the well to the refinery and refining it have doubled since 2000, and the rise in these costs increases yearly.  If oil prices drop much further, shale oil producers in North Dakota and Texas will find it unprofitable to keep drilling.

Another floor under prices is the OPEC cartel, which together supplies about 40 percent of the world’s oil.  A Bloomberg report noted that OPEC nations—particularly Saudi Arabia—have been surprisingly relaxed about the supply/demand shifts.  The cartel nations pumped 30.97 million barrels a day in October, exceeding their collective output target of 30 million barrels for a fifth straight month.  However, if oil prices were to dip closer to $80 a barrel, the cartel could well turn down the spigot and change the equation back in favor of higher prices. An OPEC meeting scheduled on Thanksgiving Day should have market moving implications for oil prices.

What should you do about all this?  Enjoy it!  When was the last time you saw prices fall dramatically on an item that you use every day, and that you could hardly function without?  Chances are you’ve been whacked by higher gas prices a few times in your life; this is your chance to enjoy a different dynamic—while it lasts.

Oh…  And don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the big oil companies.  Somehow they’ll manage to muddle through and stay profitable long enough to reap big gains the next time prices jump in the opposite direction.

If you would like to discuss any financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.

Sources:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/increased-spending-required-to-meet-future-demand/article18953856/
http://oilprice.com/Energy/Gas-Prices/Why-Despite-the-Boom-in-Oil-Production-are-Gasoline-Prices-Still-High.html
http://oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/Why-Oil-Prices-Are-About-To-Settle.html
http://www.vox.com/2014/10/7/6934819/oil-prices-falling-russia-OPEC-shale-boom-gasoline-prices

Shouldn’t gas prices be going up?

Iraq is one of the world’s largest oil producers, so when the ISIS militants rolled in from Syria and took over Iraq’s largest oil refinery, global oil traders and gas companies braced for a sharp spike in prices.  Consumers expected to see higher prices at the pump in short order.

Instead, oil and gasoline prices are lower than they were a year ago.  As you can see from the chart below, “regular” grade gasoline prices in different parts of the U.S. fell during the winter and have risen again in the summer months.  If you happen to live on the West Coast and suspected that you paid more for gas than the rest of the country, well, this chart confirms it; the prices in California and the West Coast generally are more than 50 cents a gallon higher than the cost at the pump along the Gulf Coast, where the U.S. has the bulk of its refineries.  People in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southern states generally fill up their tanks at cheaper prices.

If you want a longer-term view, review charts that show the cost of “regular” grade gasoline since 1990.  They show prices hovering around a dollar a gallon for most of the 1990s. (The good old days!)  Since then, the price has gradually crept upwards, with greater volatility and a deep price drop during the Great Recession.  Since the beginning of this decade, prices have remained fairly level, and indeed today’s gasoline prices are almost exactly what they were in early 2008.

Prices have held steady despite the turmoil in the Middle East, in part because most of the Iraqi oil fields are located in the southern part of the country, a safe distance (so far) from the ISIS insurgency.   The other main oil fields are located in Kurdish-controlled areas in the northern part of the country, and the Kurds have managed to protect their ethnic border with great effectiveness.  Add to that a recent agreement in Libya between the central government and a regional militia that will add 150,000 barrels a day to that country’s crude oil exports.

The moderation in prices, from $4.00 at the pump two years ago to roughly less than $3.00 today, is acting as a kind of stealth stimulus for the U.S. economy.  U.S. drivers are expected to use roughly 133 billion gallons of gasoline this year, so the price break adds $53 billion of savings to peoples’ balance sheets.  This, added to the lower costs for factories, airlines and electric power plants, could add half a percentage point to U.S. economic growth in 2014.

If you have any questions or concerns about financial planning or investment management, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.

%d bloggers like this: