Where Do Oil Prices Go Next?

The oil market has been nothing if not volatile this autumn. At the beginning of September, the price of benchmark West Texas Intermediate hovered near $47 per barrel after spending most of the summer trading in the mid-$40s. Then suddenly, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, WTI went on a tear, shooting up to $57 per barrel by early November: A tidy 21% gain at a time when oil demand tends to be low.

Had crude finally begun a sustained rebound after several years of depressed prices? Many oil bulls seemed to think so. Or at least, many did until earlier this week, when WTI dropped sharply after the International Energy Agency issued a prediction that global oil demand will grow more slowly next year than previously expected. Are oil prices just taking a breather before the next leg up? Or did this week’s drop mark the end of the autumn rally? Continue reading “Where Do Oil Prices Go Next?”

U.S. Oil Exporters Cash in on Higher Prices, Strong Demand

Here’s something the oil market hasn’t seen lately: A price rally.

After falling as low as $46 per barrel on Aug. 30, when Hurricane Harvey forced Gulf Coast refineries to shut down, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil has soared to about $57 per barrel. The price run-up reflects several factors: Improving economic growth around the world; hints from OPEC that its current policy of limiting crude exports will continue for longer than first scheduled; and turmoil in Saudi Arabia, where several high-ranking officials and members of the royal family have been arrested on corruption charges. (Anything that threatens the internal stability of OPEC’s largest oil producer is bound to raise concerns about potential interruptions in crude shipments.) Continue reading “U.S. Oil Exporters Cash in on Higher Prices, Strong Demand”

Budget More to Keep Warm This Winter

This past August, I checked in on supply levels for the three main heating fuels: Natural gas, heating oil and propane. The key takeaway: While shortages are unlikely, there’s less of all three fuels in storage this year than last year, which creates the potential for higher prices.

Now that the calendar says October and there’s a chill in the air across much of the country, what should energy users be expecting when it comes to prices and heating costs this winter? Continue reading “Budget More to Keep Warm This Winter”

Hurricane Harvey Wallops the Energy Industry

The rain is still falling along the Gulf Coast and the flood waters are still rising, but it’s already clear that Hurricane Harvey has crippled the region’s energy infrastructure. As I wrote last week, many of the country’s oil refineries are located along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The latest reports indicate that more than 10% of U.S. refining capacity is now offline because of flooding and closures of shipping channels, roads and railways.

Retail gasoline prices are already starting to show the effects of refinery outages. According to AAA, the nation’s average price for regular unleaded now stands at $2.38 per gallon, up 4 cents from a week ago. Gasoline futures contracts are showing even steeper gains, signaling that drivers can expect prices at the gas station to keep rising in the next few days. Continue reading “Hurricane Harvey Wallops the Energy Industry”

What Hurricane Harvey Means For Gas Prices

Residents living along the western Gulf of Mexico are no doubt carefully monitoring Hurricane Harvey, which is forecast to come ashore somewhere along the Texas coast Friday with flooding rains, powerful winds and damaging storm surges. It’s a dangerous situation for a region that hasn’t seen a hurricane since Ike in 2008.

Motorists throughout the U.S. might want to keep an eye on the storm’s impact, too. Why? Because the western Gulf is home to almost half of the country’s oil refining capacity. If flooding causes power outages or otherwise hobbles refineries, the production of gasoline and other fuels will take a significant hit. Continue reading “What Hurricane Harvey Means For Gas Prices”

Sizing Up Heating Fuel Supplies Ahead of Winter

It’s only August, but it’s not too early to check in on the supply of the heating oil, propane and natural gas that that will start warming homes and businesses in a few short months. Especially since consumers could face notably higher heating costs this coming winter than what they have paid recently.

Like every other product, the price of heating fuel is determined by supply and demand. Demand, of course, depends on the weather, and thus can swing wildly from one winter to the next. Supply, on the other hand, is easy to gauge now. Continue reading “Sizing Up Heating Fuel Supplies Ahead of Winter”

Do Oil Prices Have Room To Fall Further?

Folks hitting the road for July 4th this year won’t have much to complain about at the gas pump.  The day before the holiday, AAA reports that regular unleaded averages a mere $2.23 per gallon nationwide: The lowest price for early July since 2005. (Of course, that nationwide average includes some sharp regional variations. Californians are paying roughly $2.94 per gallon of regular. In South Carolina, the statewide norm is $1.90.) It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, the nationwide average price was $3.68 per gallon.

Of course, drivers can thank the oil market for those savings. The world has been awash in excess crude for more than two years now, and oil prices have plunged during that time. Even with OPEC limiting its oil exports to shrink the supply glut, prices have remained stubbornly low. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate showed some signs of rallying this spring, but topped out at about $53 per barrel in April before retreating below $50 again. In fact, WTI technically entered a bear market when it closed at $42.53 on June 21, marking a 20% decline from its April peak. (A small rebound has taken crude back to about $46.50.) Continue reading “Do Oil Prices Have Room To Fall Further?”

Trump Pulls the U.S. Out of Paris Climate Accord

Now that President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the international climate agreement that seeks to limit future greenhouse gas emissions, it’s worth asking a few questions. What exactly did President Obama commit the U.S. to in Paris in 2015? How significant are U.S. emissions relative to the rest of the world’s? And what are U.S. emission levels likely to be now that Washington has left the pact? (President Trump has left open the possibility of rejoining the Paris accord later, but under what terms is unclear.)

Of course, whether to participate in the Paris deal is largely a political question of public policy, and one that arouses strong feelings. I won’t wade into the arguments surrounding Trump’s decision. But energy consumption is really the issue. And that’s a topic where some objective, apolitical analysis is possible. Continue reading “Trump Pulls the U.S. Out of Paris Climate Accord”

Big Picture Trends for the Energy Industry and How Investors Can Profit

I recently teamed up with my colleague Jeff Kosnett to discuss developments in the energy sector, and how they translate into opportunities for investors. Below is a summary of our discussion. At the end of this article is a link to a recording of the conversation, which is free to Kiplinger Alerts subscribers.

Where are oil prices headed?

Markets have been volatile over the last few decades, which is a scary prospect for investors. Continue reading “Big Picture Trends for the Energy Industry and How Investors Can Profit”