Benchmark crude futures have registered an electric performance so far this year and now — near $117 a barrel — hover well above some of the highest near-term forecasts. The speed of the ascent has caught many market participants off guard and forced banks and brokerages to repeatedly revise their oil-price outlook upward.
“I personally think this is the mother of all bubbles,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc., a consulting firm in Amherst, Mass. He expects prices to pull back to $80 a barrel by late June, and in the long run step down to $50 as pent-up supply in Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela and other underproducing exporters starts to flow.
The case for lower oil prices is straightforward: The prospect of a deep U.S. recession or even a marked period of slower economic growth in the world’s top energy consumer making a dent in energy consumption. Year to date, oil demand in the U.S. is down 1.9% compared with the same period in 2007, and high prices and a weak economy should knock down U.S. oil consumption by 90,000 barrels a day this year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Mr. Lynch at Strategic Energy argues the dynamics of supply and demand justify a price of $30-$40 a barrel, while jitters in unstable exporting regions might reasonably double that price.
“But $114? I mean, the run-up in price we’re seeing in the last six weeks or so has happened while the fundamentals have, generally speaking, gotten bearish,” he said.