Saturday, December 31, 2011

Price of Fuel Going Down as Supply Increases? Don't Bet on It.

It is arrogance to assume the US can control the worldwide price of oil and refined petroleum products (PP).  It is also delusional to think the oil companies will do anything other than what is in their best interest.

Practically, what those two statements mean is 1) Petroleum products, regardless of where they originate, will flow to the most economical location - it is fungible.  2) Oil companies could care less if the US is dependent on foreign oil or not (see 1. above).

We now have the interesting situation where US demand for petroleum products (i.e., gasoline) is lower than the supply.  The narrative has been when this occurs, prices will go down and that will spur more demand, a new "market clearing" price will emerge and all will be fine.  Of course, this assumes the US is a closed society and the only thing the oil companies can do (or want to do) is dump the excess oil /PP on the US market.  But, we learn, they have a second option.  They can export it to countries where demand is growing the price is higher.

This puts us into an odd situation: The US is now a net exporter of petroleum products.  The excess supply did NOT lower prices or wean us off of foreign oil.

So, if you are a trucker or shipper thinking all that shale gas and oil will ultimately lower your operating costs you may want to think about a "plan B".  It will merely get exported.

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