News / Economy

Oil Price Rise Fueled by Investment Funds

Prices posted at a US gasoline station, April 20, 2011
Prices posted at a US gasoline station, April 20, 2011
Greg Flakus

As the price of crude oil rises on world markets, complaints from consumers, industries and politicians are also on the rise. Some blame the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries, the cartel known as OPEC, while others blame unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and still others blame market speculators.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has formed a Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force Working Group to look into possible fraud in energy markets, but the price may be driven more by investment trends.

Energy analysts see some of the usual factors driving oil prices this year, including increased demand in rapidly developing nations like India and China, restrictions on drilling in some areas like the eastern coast of the United States and unrest in oil-producing countries like Libya.  But petroleum has also become a favored asset for investors looking for future profits and their dollars sometimes distort the market.

Most investment money these days, from individual investors as well as from institutions, charitable groups and even governments, is now in various types of managed funds. Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service says the managers of those funds can have a big impact on commodity prices, including the price of oil.

"Probably no one is breaking any rules, but a couple of key strokes by a money manager can move millions and billions of dollars into a market, and affect the price of something which is a life blood for consumers and people on the margins of society all over the world," said Kloza.

He says governments can't eliminate all speculation from the market, but that some kind of regulation is needed, especially outside the United States.

"I think unfettered is unforgivable and oil futures markets, particularly offshore, are largely unfettered," he said.

Speaking at a meeting in Kuwait this week, OPEC Secretary General Abdalla El-Badri said world oil prices are now being driven more by speculation than supply and demand.  Kloza and other analysts do not believe speculation plays a large role in the price rise, but they are not putting all the blame on OPEC either.

Saudi Arabia, the OPEC member nation with the world's largest reserves, has cut back on some of its production, thereby limiting supply and driving up prices, according to OPEC critics. But Tom Kloza believes OPEC leaders themselves are concerned about high prices.

"I think that many of the moderates, the doves within OPEC, are very uncomfortable with where prices are heading, because if we keep heading at this pace, we will open the door for some alternative technologies that would otherwise need subsidies or some sort of government give outs," said Kloza.

Some non-OPEC countries, particularly China, may be playing a big role in driving up oil prices and not just through their demand, according to Peter Zeihan, Vice President of Analysis at the global intelligence company Stratfor in Austin, Texas. He agrees with Kloza that investment in oil is the key factor, but he says the increase in money available to invest is also important.

"Back in the year 2000 the investing community as a whole made up about 10 percent of long positions in the oil market and now they are up to 40 percent," said Zeihan. "So you add that many new players and that much new money, but you do not add any more than a 10 percent increase in oil supply and, of course, you are going to have higher prices."

While that investment money comes from all over the world, Zeihan says one of the most significant contributors has been China, which takes in dollars from the United States and other nations that import its products. He says China has put much of that money into oil futures.

But the Stratfor analyst says the fundamental laws of supply and demand always win out eventually and then, as happened in 1998, 2001, and, most recently and dramatically in 2008, the price drops.

"Sooner or later the fundamentals are going to overpower the investor fervor," he said. "It happens every few years. Eventually the fundamentals will overpower any exuberance on the market and you will have a sudden, rapid sustained price drop over the course of a few weeks."

Zeihan is not predicting when that will happen. In the meantime, he sees signs that higher prices are encouraging more conservation and driving sales of fuel-efficient cars, but he does not see the development of an alternative to oil any time soon.

"In the United States we have proven that high prices were certainly exactly what was necessary to make hybrids very popular, but in terms of any other energy source, there is really nothing on the horizon," he said.

Zeihan says there is no other transportation fuel as dense in energy, as flexible and as easy to transport and use as petroleum.  Natural gas from shale  may help alleviate some of the U.S. demand, he says, but that will require a big investment in infrastructure.  He says electric cars, recharged from power supplied by expanded nuclear plants, looked promising until the recent nuclear accident in Japan. For the foreseeable future, Zeihan says, the world depends on oil and consumers will have to put up with the frequent price fluctuations.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7893
JPY
USD
107.68
GBP
USD
0.6238
CAD
USD
1.1214
INR
USD
61.185

Rates may not be current.