Copied from another NG:
The Reason For Soaring
Oil Prices - Pt II
By F. William Engdahl*
As detailed in an earlier article, a conservative calculation is that at
least 60% of today's $128 per barrel price of crude oil comes from
unregulated futures speculation by hedge funds, banks and financial groups
using the London ICE Futures and New York NYMEX futures exchanges and
uncontrolled inter-bank or Over-The-Counter trading to avoid scrutiny. US
margin rules of the government's Commodity Futures Trading Commission allow
speculators to buy a crude oil futures contract on the Nymex, by having to
pay only 6% of the value of the contract. At today's price of $128 per
barrel, that means a futures trader only has to put up about $8 for every
barrel. He borrows the other $120. This extreme "leverage" of 16 to 1 helps
drive prices to wildly unrealistic levels and offset bank losses in
sub-prime and other disasters at the expense of the overall population.
The hoax of Peak Oil-namely the argument that the oil production has hit the
point where more than half all reserves have been used and the world is on
the downslope of oil at cheap price and abundant quantity-has enabled this
costly fraud to continue since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 with the help of
key banks, oil traders and big oil majors. Washington is trying to shift
blame, as always, to Arab OPEC producers. The problem is not a lack of crude
oil supply. In fact the world is in over-supply now. Yet the price climbs
relentlessly higher. Why? The answer lies in what are clearly deliberate US
government policies that permit the unbridled oil price manipulations.
World Oil Demand Flat, Prices Boom
The chief market strategist for one of the world's leading oil industry
banks, David Kelly, of J.P. Morgan Funds, recently admitted something
telling to the Washington Post, "One of the things I think is very important
to realize is that the growth in the world oil consumption is not that
One of the stories used to support the oil futures speculators is the
allegation that China's oil import thirst is exploding out of control,
driving shortages in the supply-demand equilibrium. The facts do not support
the China demand thesis however.
The US Government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its most
recent monthly Short Term Energy Outlook report, concluded that US oil
demand is expected to decline by 190,000 b/d in 2008. That is mainly owing
to the deepening economic recession. Chinese consumption, the EIA says, far
from exploding, is expected to rise this year by only 400,000 barrels a day.
That is hardly the "surging oil demand" blamed on China in the media. Last
year China imported 3.2 million barrels per day, and its estimated usage was
around 7 million b/d total. The US, by contrast, consumes around 20.7
That means the key oil consuming nation, the USA, is experiencing a
significant drop in demand. China, which consumes only a third of the oil
the US does, will see a minor rise in import demand compared with the total
daily world oil output of some 84 million barrels, less than half of a
percent of the total demand.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has its 2008
global oil demand growth forecast unchanged at 1.2 mm bpd, as slowing
economic growth in the industrialised world is offset by slightly growing
consumption in developing nations. OPEC predicts global oil demand in 2008
will average 87 million bpd -- largely unchanged from its previous estimate.
Demand from China, the Middle East, India, and Latin America -- is forecast
to be stronger but the EU and North American demand will be lower.
So the world's largest oil consumer faces a sharp decline in consumption, a
decline that will worsen as the housing and related economic effects of the
US securitization crisis in finance de-leverages. The price in normal open
or transparent markets would presumably be falling not rising. No supply
crisis justifies the way the world's oil is being priced today.
Big new oil fields coming online
Not only is there no supply crisis to justify such a price bubble. There are
several giant new oil fields due to begin production over the course of 2008
to further add to supply.
The world's single largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia is finalizing plans to
boost drilling activity by a third and increase investments by 40 %. Saudi
Aramco's plan, which runs from 2009 to 2013, is expected to be approved by
the company's board and the Oil Ministry this month. The Kingdom is in the
midst of a $ 50 billion oil production expansion plan to meet growing demand
in Asia and other emerging markets. The Kingdom is expected to boost its
pumping capacity to a total of 12.5 mm bpd by next year, up about 11 % from
current capacity of 11.3 mm bpd.
In April this year Saudi Arabia's Khursaniyah oilfield began pumping and
will soon add another 500,000 bpd to world oil supply of high grade Arabian
Light crude. As well, another Saudi expansion project, the Khurais oilfield
development, is the largest of Saudi Aramco projects that will boost the
production capacity of Saudi oilfields from 11.3 million bpd to 12.5 million
bpd by 2009. Khurais is planned to add another 1.2 million bpd of
high-quality Arabian light crude to Saudi Arabia's export capacity.
Brazil's Petrobras is in the early phase of exploiting what it estimates are
newly confirmed oil reserves offshore in its Tupi field that could be as
great or greater than the North Sea. Petrobras, says the new ultra-deep Tupi
field could hold as much as 8 billion barrels of recoverable light crude.
When online in a few years it is expected to put Brazil among the world's
"top 10" oil producers, between those of Nigeria and those of Venezuela.
In the United States, aside from rumors that the big oil companies have been
deliberately sitting on vast new reserves in Alaska for fear that the prices
of recent years would plunge on over-supply, the US Geological Survey (USGS)
recently issued a report that confirmed major new oil reserves in an area
called the Bakken, which stretches across North Dakota, Montana and
south-eastern Saskatchewan. The USGS estimates up to 3.65 billion barrels of
oil in the Bakken.
These are just several confirmations of large new oil reserves to be
exploited. Iraq, where the Anglo-American Big Four oil majors are salivating
to get their hands on the unexplored fields, is believed to hold oil
reserves second only to Saudi Arabia. Much of the world has yet to be
explored for oil. At prices above $60 a barrel huge new potentials become
economic. The major problem faced by Big Oil is not finding replacement oil
but keeping the lid on world oil finds in order to maintain present
exorbitant prices. Here they have some help from Wall Street banks and the
two major oil trade exchanges-NYMEX and London-Atlanta's ICE and ICE
Then why do prices still rise?
There is growing evidence that the recent speculative bubble in oil which
has gone asymptotic since January is about to pop.
Late last month in Dallas Texas, according to one participant, the American
Association of Petroleum Geologists held its annual conference where all the
major oil executives and geologists were present. According to one
participant, knowledgeable oil industry CEOs reached the consensus that "oil
prices will likely soon drop dramatically and the long-term price increases
will be in natural gas."
Just a few days earlier, Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street investment bank had
said that the current oil price bubble was coming to an end. Michael
Waldron, the bank's chief oil strategist, was quoted in Britain's Daily
Telegraph on Apr. 24 saying, "Oil supply is outpacing demand growth.
Inventories have been building since the beginning of the year."
In the US, stockpiles of oil climbed by almost 12 million barrels in April
according to the May 7 EIA monthly report on inventory, up by nearly 33
million barrels since January. At the same time, MasterCard's May 7 US
gasoline report showed that gas demand has fallen by 5.8%. And refiners are
reducing their refining rates dramatically to adjust to the falling gasoline
demand. They are now running at 85% of capacity, down from 89% a year ago,
in a season when production is normally 95%. The refiners today are clearly
trying to draw down gasoline inventories to bid gasoline prices up. 'It's
the economy, stupid,' to paraphrase Bill Clinton's infamous 1992 election
quip to daddy Bush. It's called economic recession.
The May 8 report from Oil Movements, a British company that tracks oil
shipments worldwide, shows that oil in transit on the high seas is also
quite strong. Almost every category of shipment is running higher than it
was a year ago. The report notes that, "In the West, a big share of any oil
stock building done this year has happened offshore, out of sight." Some
industry insiders say the global oil industry from the activities and stocks
of the Big Four to the true state of tanker and storage and liftings, is the
most secretive industry in the world with the possible exception of the
Goldman Sachs again in the middle
The oil price today, unlike twenty years ago, is determined behind closed
doors in the trading rooms of giant financial institutions like Goldman
Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank or UBS. The
key exchange in the game is the London ICE Futures Exchange (formerly the
International Petroleum Exchange). ICE Futures is a wholly-owned subsidiary
of the Atlanta Georgia International Commodities Exchange. ICE in Atlanta
was founded in part by Goldman Sachs which also happens to run the world's
most widely used commodity price index, the GSCI, which is over-weighted to
As I noted in my earlier article, ('Perhaps 60% of today's oil price is pure
speculation'), ICE was focus of a recent congressional investigation. It was
named both in the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations' June
27, 2006, Staff Report and in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce's
hearing in December 2007 which looked into unregulated trading in energy
futures. Both studies concluded that energy prices' climb to $128 and
perhaps beyond is driven by billions of dollars' worth of oil and natural
gas futures contracts being placed on the ICE. Through a convenient
regulation exception granted by the Bush Administration in January 2006, the
ICE Futures trading of US energy futures is not regulated by the Commodities
Futures Trading Commission, even though the ICE Futures US oil contracts are
traded in ICE affiliates in the USA. And at Enron's request, the CFTC
exempted the Over-the-Counter oil futures trades in 2000.
So it is no surprise to see in a May 6 report from Reuters that Goldman
Sachs announces oil could in fact be on the verge of another "super spike,"
possibly taking oil as high as $200 a barrel within the next six to 24
months. That headline, "$200 a barrel!" became the major news story on oil
for the next two days. How many gullible lemmings followed behind with their
Arjun Murti, Goldman Sachs' energy strategist, blamed what he called
"blistering" (sic) demand from China and the Middle East, combined with his
assertion that the Middle East is nearing its maximum ability to produce
more oil. Peak Oil mythology again helps Wall Street. The degree of
unfounded hype reminds of the kind of self-serving Wall Street hype in
1999-2000 around dot.com stocks or Enron.
In 2001 just before the dot.com crash in the NASDAQ, some Wall Street firms
were pushing sale to the gullible public of stocks that their companies were
quietly dumping. Or they were pushing dubious stocks for companies where
their affiliated banks had a financial interest. In short as later came out
in Congressional investigations, companies with a vested interest in a
certain financial outcome used the media to line their pockets and that of
their companies, leaving the public investor holding the bag. It would be
interesting for Congress to subpoena the records of the futures positions of
Goldman Sachs and a handful of other major energy futures players to see if
they are invested to gain from a further rise in oil to $200 or not.
Margin rules feed the frenzy
Another added turbo-charger to present speculation in oil prices is the
margin rule governing what percent of cash a buyer of a futures contract in
oil has to put up to bet on a rising oil price (or falling for that matter).
The current NYMEX regulation allows a speculator to put up only 6% of the
total value of his oil futures contract. That means a risk-taking hedge fund
or bank can buy oil futures with a leverage of 16 to 1.
We are hit with an endless series of plausible arguments for the high price
of oil: A "terrorism risk premium;" "blistering" rise in demand of China and
India; unrest in the Nigerian oil region; oil pipelines' blown up in Iraq;
possible war with IranAnd above all the hype about Peak Oil. Oil speculator
T. Boone Pickens has reportedly raked in a huge profit on oil futures and
argues, conveniently that the world is on the cusp of Peak Oil. So does the
Houston investment banker and friend of Dick Cheney, Matt Simmons.
As the June 2006 US Senate report, The Role of Market Speculation in Rising
Oil and Gas Prices, noted, "There's a few hedge fund managers out there who
are masters at knowing how to exploit the peak oil theories and hot buttons
of supply and demand, and by making bold predictions of shocking price
advancements to come, they only add more fuel to the bullish fire in a sort
of self-fulfilling prophecy."
Will a Democratic Congress act to change the carefully crafted opaque oil
futures markets in an election year and risk bursting the bubble? On May 12
House Energy & Commerce Committee stated it will look at this issue into
June. The world will be watching.
* F. William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil
Politics and the New World Order (PlutoPress), and Seeds of Destruction: The
Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation. (Global Research, available at