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New Euro Problems Set the Stage for Kneejerk Reactions

by | published March 22nd, 2013

With all of the concern exhibited this week over tiny Cyprus’ problems with banks and China’s high-profile billion-dollar solar implosion, the doomsayers are once again predicting an oil price crash.

These guys must really need your money!

Each new geopolitical event is cast as the end of the world as we know it.

The fact is there is nothing on the horizon that will be collapsing prices for one very simple reason.

The prospects for oil prices are increasing, and elevating oil products along with them. Most sections of the U.S. will be testing 2008 gasoline highs at the pump well before mid-summer.

Yes, we saw a swing down in crude futures during the initial stages of the Cypriot crisis, augmented by some short-lived negative comments on Chinese industrial prospects.

By this morning, stabilization had occurred and an oversold crude oil futures market was moving back up.

The perception is that this remains driven by demand expectations. Now I have discussed several times the essential shortcomings of what the pundits regularly do with demand. Most of the initial reactions witnessed in the market whenever a negative appears are overdone.

These reactions are also experienced without a justification in data.

Remember, the tangible figures supporting a reduction in futures contract prices, the data that actually provides an indication of a decline in demand, take at least three months.

And even then, the indicators are very provisional.

As a result, knee-jerk reactions drive the initial investment response.

But it usually results in an oversold condition. As we have also noted in the past, such an immediate read also says nothing of genuine value about crack spreads – the difference between futures contracts in crude oil and those in gasoline and heating oil.

On this score, consider the current situation in crude versus RBOB (“Reformulated Blendstock for Oxygenate Blending,” the NYMEX futures contract in gasoline). While both have performed about the same this month, with NYMEX prices up 0.3% for WTI (West Texas Intermediate benchmark grade), while RBOB posted a 1% gain.

However, the price of gasoline will be spiking for three reasons that have nothing to do with projected demand.

What’s Actually Driving Demand?

First, the main driving season of the year is approaching.

Second for most of the populated areas of the country, there is a required switch from winter to the more expensive summer blend of gasoline approaching.

And third, there is the ethanol situation.

This last consideration is the new wrinkle. Admittedly, it is the result from a political (though still largely bipartisan) decision. Washington mandates that a certain percentage of the retail gasoline mix sold must be ethanol. In fact, the credits refiners have to buy, called RINs (short for “Reusable Identification Numbers”), to fill in the gallons processors are required to buy.

Each year since 2007, the number of gallons of gasoline sold in the U.S. has declined. That will be the case again this year. With the ethanol mandate remaining, however, the overall volume of ethanol in fuel will be increasing just to maintain the 10% level.

But the legislation states that the number of RINs (that is, ethanol gallons) purchased must increase each year for the next decade. And that is where the pricing pressure hits.

Corn Futures, Weather a Major Concern

Last year’s drought brought about a huge rise in corn prices. With more than 40% of the corn grown in the country now going to ethanol production and the price of that corn rising over 60% in less than a year, the situation has translated into a rapid increase in the cost of the ethanol component in gasoline.

Normally, an open market would compensate for this by reducing the percentage of biofuels in gasoline. Unfortunately, that is not possible, given federal statute.

This is not a demand-push scenario. It is one dictated by an attempt to rebalance motor fuel to require a grater domestic (and diversified) composition. Yes, there will be a guaranteed market for American-produced biofuels in the new energy mix emerging.

In addition, the problem now experienced was caused by Mother Nature’s decision to preserve rainfall. I normal times, the cost of the ethanol in gasoline was counted in pennies to the gallon. Nonetheless, this is another example of politics messing up the normal market pricing mechanisms and costing the consumer.

Now we are all consumers and we will all have to pay until the ethanol situation is resolved. Certainly, the interests of corn growers in Nebraska and Ohio must be considered right along with the drillers of oil in Texas and Oklahoma.

Before too long, with the advent of a push to use natural gas as a vehicle fuel, we will also have to throw the interests of gas producers in Pennsylvania and Colorado into the mix.

All of which leads us to a very clear conclusion. There are always elements other than simple supply and demand that are influencing the ultimate price of an oil product.

Remember, we may complain about external pricing pressures that are human in origin. But as investors, they are also likely to make us some money.

As this pricing swing moves into full gear, I will be talking right here about how to gain from the dynamics unfolding.

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  1. Jere Reid
    March 22nd, 2013 at 15:22 | #1

    Dr. Moors What about ships to transport lng when the export facility it built? Are there some better than others?

  2. Ted
    March 22nd, 2013 at 16:09 | #2

    You would think that the powers that be would have the problem solving skills and good judgment to make an effective adjustment. Come on Congressmen and women, step up to the plate and change the law! If you can’t do that, just pass a law saying when the sun has to rise and set and you will be just as effective.

  3. Bob
    March 22nd, 2013 at 16:14 | #3

    Bloomberg news reports that Rosneft has surpassed Exxon as the largest oil and gas company in the world, in terms of reserves. But I still find few buy recommendations for this supposed new giant. Also, analyzing Rosneft is a bewildering process, because of piled on loans deals, a vast array of business deals (the Arctic with Exxon, Venezuela, etc) with far off timelines. Can you provide a thoroughgoing analysis or refer me to a credible source?

    thanks

  4. Richard Filipowicz
    March 23rd, 2013 at 07:07 | #4

    Hi,

    as usual, a very interesting article, I never realised that it was a mandatory requirement to blend a certain amount of ethanol with gasoline.

    My question is; does this requirement only apply to the USA and or Canada or is this a global requirement for all countries. If this requirement applies only to north America hence increases in price at the pums, then what happens in the rest of the world, for example is there a knock-on effect.

    Regards,
    Richard Filipowicz

  5. enthusceptic
    March 23rd, 2013 at 09:39 | #5

    “Natgas as a vehicle fuel”, thank you Dr. M., music to my ears! We’re supposed to stop using food for energy except in humans and animals, and viable biofuels are not here yet, so natgas, LPG and CNG, are the best existing and cheaper alternative to gasoline and in some cases diesel.
    I’ve found a way into the US stock market throgh a broker in my home country – this may be useful for others too – so soon it’s off to the races!
    Also thank you for helping us navigate through the short term to a profitable future. Keep it up!

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