Is Oil Heading For $100?
Stephen Leeb, president of Leeb Capital Management, a New York investment manager and author of The Oil Factor (Warner Business 2004). estimates that if China and India continue to grow, the demand for oil will rise by 6.1% per year. To meet such demand, the world would have to raise output by 43% by 2010 and to triple it in 20 years.
Is such an increase plausible? Matthew Simmons, chairman of Simmons & Company International, an energy banking firm in Houston, points out that, while new discoveries are certainly possible, even likely, 70% of the world's daily supply comes from fields that have been drilled for 30 years or more. Leeb adds that even Saudi Arabia, despite a stagnant economy, consumes 24% of the oil it drills. In order for it to boost production, it will have to consume a higher percentage of what it makes. As for the world's second largest oil exporter, Russia, if its economy weren't a basket case, it might be using its entire output internally.
Leeb says that during the last oil crisis, the world was producing at 70% capacity. Now it's at 99%. Because there is no slack in the system, every time there is a trial in Russia, a strike in Venezuela, a hurricane off Louisiana or a surge in violence in the Middle East, the oil markets react dramatically. The good news is that we are more efficient than in the 1980s, and we spend a much smaller share of gross domestic product on energy. But while demand may slack off short term due to slower growth, the longer term is troubling regardless of new production technology or far better conservation.
Where have we heard this before? In the 1970s and 1980s, some prognosticators spoke about the world "running out of oil." That prospect is not what drives the current fears. It is the apparently inevitable supply-and-demand driven market movements that may force the price of oil to $100. And that's a lot scarier.