Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Oil Prices Fallacy

With oil closing to $100 per barrel, I explored the history of oil prices and their correlation to a few items. My results are summarized in the chart below; click for a full-sized version.

First thing I found was that oil prices are nowhere near their peak of 4.54 grams of gold (AUG) per barrel. Today, Nov. 6, the price is at 3.6g AUG per barrel, or nearly a quarter lower than their peak. The price that changed was the price of the US dollar, not the price of oil (of course, prices are relative, but given the relatively low volatility of oil prices and higher volatility of the price of dollar I'd blame the dollar in this case).

Second, I'd like to point out to the longest run in oil price increase, which began with two mega mergers of oil companies and ended with another merger and the first electoral victory of G.W. Bush. Given the fact that during the same run there appeared to be a deficit in oil supply, possibly caused by increased refinery capacity (these two resulted in a decreased refinery utilization), I assume that the oil processing industry entered a time period of reduced competitiveness with two large conglomerates and four smaller companies. Once other companies merged to offer adequate competition to Exxon Mobil and BP, the price stabilized. Bush's election victory over Gore was also seen as a positive development, as the industry observers hoped that it would open access to new drilling areas, such as expanding oil production in Alaska.

One last observation, which is not apparent from the charts, is that the oil prices are highly correlated with refinery utilization (85%), and there seems to be a positive relationship between the two (regression with p=0.0004). Why this is so is anybody's guess; my assumption is that there is no shortage of refinery capacity in the US, and thus seasonal changes in demand for gas affect both the refinery utilization and oil prices.

Be it as it is, for me the most important finding was that oil is still far from its record price, and that it's unlikely it'll get there anytime soon. Unlike the US dollar, whose price keeps tanking.

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