INTERVIEW: Oil price rises driven by investor speculation

The price of fear

Foreign Policy: The price of oil has come close to reaching $100 recently. What does that $100 figure mean?

Fadel Gheith: It’s a psychological number. I mean, what’s the difference between $100 oil and $99 oil? There are a lot of futures contracts tied to hitting this number of 100, but it’s only another number; it really doesn’t mean much.

FP: The International Energy Agency is now saying that it’s really growing demand from China and India, not tight supply, that is driving these high oil prices. What do you make of that argument?

FG: Well, that is also true, but does it change the equation so much that we see oil prices up 60 percent in less than six months? Obviously not. I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I can tell you, I try to justify $60 oil and I can’t find any plausible reason to think that oil prices should be a dollar above $60, let alone above $90 or $100.

FP: So what about derivatives trading—

FG: That’s exactly what I’m focusing on. I truly believe that major investment banks and a large number of very high-risk-taking financial players have seized control of the oil markets, especially in the last six months. During that time, oil prices moved in one direction and market fundamentals really moved sideways or even lowered. Demand has slowed down significantly. We have seen all kinds of indications that we are reaching a breaking point here. We’ve seen what happened to gasoline margins on the West Coast; they’ve dropped to an almost 18-year low. All this is an indication that something is wrong with the system, that supply and demand fundamentals do not justify the current price. But if the current price is based on speculation, there is no limit to how high oil prices can go. Basically, as long as there is somebody willing to bid higher, the price of the commodity will move higher. [complete article]

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