Over the past several weeks, oil and gas prices have fallen sharply, prompting many to conclude that the bull market has finally run its course. With oil prices back to $60 per barrel, most are now calling for prices to fall back below $50, and some see even lower prices dominating in the years to come. As there is no real evidence that suggests an abatement of those forces that pushed oil prices up from below $20 six years ago to near $80 dollars last month, such rosy forecasts really amount to wishful thinking. The recent sharp decline is likely technical in nature, providing long-term investors with an excellent opportunity to build on established positions, or create new ones.
Oil’s impressive gain over the past six years has attracted “hot money” from leveraged speculators, particularly hedge funds piling into the market. This has resulted in increased volatility, particularly on the down side. This week we learned that Amaranth Advisors, a $10 billion dollar hedge fund, blew up, losing better than 60% of its value as a result of highly leveraged natural gas bets that turned bad. The unwinding of these huge positions obviously exacerbated recent declines, and will likely help form a significant bottom to this correction. It is important to remember that the speculative money is not the driving force behind the underlying move. The fundamentals have been powering the energy market for years, and will likely continue doing so regardless of how many speculators tag along for the ride.
I have been buying oil and gas related stocks for my clients since 1996, long before the recent run up caught most investor’s attention. In the 2002-2003 run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when most strategists were calling $30 oil a temporary fluke, reflecting a “war premium,??? I agued the reverse. My take was that oil prices actually reflected a “war discount??? and that rather than falling when the war ended, oil prices would rise even further. See my commentary from March 13th 2003 entitled “There is no “war premium” in the price of oil!??? available here. In fact, I was one of the first on Wall Street to officially forecast oil prices of $50 dollar per barrel. After that forecast proved accurate, and most top Wall Street strategist were calling for prices to collapse below $30 per barrel, I was one of the few who correctly forecast the move above $70 per barrel. In a Barron’s article dated November 2, 2004, with oil trading just shy of $50 per barrel, and oil strategist at both Merrill Lynch and Salomon Brothers predicting a quick return to the $30 level, I was the only one quoted who accurately predicted oil prices rising to $70 per barrel.
There are two primary reasons that I still believe oil prices will continue their long-term ascent. First, years of cheap oil, and the false perception that prices would stay low indefinitely, lead producers to under-invest in exploration and development, and consumers to over-utilize energy resources. As a result, it will take a long time for supply and demand to readjust to the new reality, ensuring high prices for years to come.
Second, once Asian central banks finally allow the U.S. dollar to collapse, Asian demand for oil will surge. That is because appreciated local currencies will not only make oil cheaper for Asian consumers to buy, but result in risings living standards throughout the region. As the values of their savings and incomes rise, more affluent Asian consumers will then be able to afford more energy utilizing products. Currently the purchasing power of Asian consumers is being suppressed by their governments’ foolish policies of propping up the purchasing power of American consumers.
Since there will not be enough new oil to satisfy the explosion in Asian demand, it will instead be satisfied with oil previously consumed by Americans. The flip side of increased purchasing power for Asians will be decreased purchasing power for Americans. As a result, precisely when oil gets cheaper for Asians, it will get more expensive for Americans. As the value of Asian wages and savings rise, those of Americans will fall. The extra oil consumed by wealthier Asians will no longer be consumed by poorer Americas, who will therefore be forced to conserve and economize in ways currently unimaginable.
As the yuan or yen price of oil drops, the U.S. dollar price of oil will surge. Therefore American investors, who hold oil investments instead of dollars, will in effect be able to preserve their purchasing power and protect their current standard of living. One of the best ways to accomplishing this is by purchasing Canadian energy trusts. These unique investment vehicles offer tax-advantaged, consistently high, monthly income directly related to the price of oil and gas. With many funds off 20% or more from their recent highs, now is likely an excellent time to invest.