A supply squeeze coupled with any kind of disruption could boost prices even more next year.

By Daniel Dicker

 

Oil has increased in price by almost 15% in 2011, making it the third straight year that oil prices have risen. And 15% should be considered a very good result for consumers and business, considering that Brent crude, the benchmark upon which most refined products are based, was rising toward $130 a barrel in spring.

 

We won't get as lucky in 2012.

 

What has been holding down crude for the past two quarters has been a combination of factors:

  • First, negative news from Europe put the deep threat of recession contagion throughout global markets.
  • Second, the lack of transparency into the Chinese markets is making it difficult to predict whether China can engineer a "soft landing" or whether more depressing data that have been emerging are the precursor of a real commodity crash.
  • And third, increasing supplies from Libya and Iraq are coming online faster than many people thought.

Combine all that with a slowing Europe and U.S. consumers who are slowly getting better at conservation, and you've got weakening prices for oil.

 

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While many factors will not go away in 2012, some are being answered enough to allow the oil market to again find the kind of buying interest it saw in 2009 and 2010.

 

Saudi Arabia and OPEC have taken steps to close down surplus supplies in the coming year and force prices to remain sticky above $100 a barrel -- putting prices one or two headlines away from testing 2011 highs of $125 a barrel.

 

In a very underreported story, the Saudis abandoned a $200 billion, 10-year program of development that could have increased marginal barrel reserves in the kingdom by as much as 5 million barrels a day.

 

In addition, OPEC ministers earlier this month in Vienna agreed to a daily output ceiling of 30 million barrels a day. The last time OPEC established production limits cartel-wide was more than three years ago, when prices were closer to $50 a barrel.

 

These are the beginnings of a concerted supply squeeze. If you add any disruptions in 2012 -- whether from Iranian sabre-rattling in the Straits of Hormuz, a collapse of a newly U.S.-free Iraqi infrastructure, a hiccup from the newly instituted Libyan oil industry, or a host of other issues neither you nor I could possibly plan on -- you've got a streaking oil price, perhaps approaching the all-time highs of $147 a barrel we saw in 2008.

 

There will be further upward price pressure from investors looking to cycle back into commodities, and particularly oil, after the start of the year. Outflows have been the theme of the past two quarters, both in equities and commodities. But as confidence in the markets continues to increase, so will the risk appetites of investors. I expect a good portion of that appetite to turn to oil.

 

There are lots of ways to play this, but perhaps the simplest is with the two largest energy ETFs, the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE -1.58%) and the Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (OIH -1.79%). Both provide super-liquid and sector-wide exposure to both mega-cap energy companies and oil services companies. Both sectors will benefit greatly and rally strongly as oil begins to climb.

 

2012 looks to be another strong year for energy.

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Wasn't the 2008 run up also caused by Iran's price increase?  Seems like that's about when prices soared to 150 and natural gas also went up ... then the Haynesville was announced and BOOM!!

"These are the beginnings of a concerted supply squeeze. If you add any disruptions in 2012 -- whether from Iranian sabre-rattling in the Straits of Hormuz, a collapse of a newly U.S.-free Iraqi infrastructure, a hiccup from the newly instituted Libyan oil industry, or a host of other issues neither you nor I could possibly plan on -- you've got a streaking oil price, perhaps approaching the all-time highs of $147 a barrel we saw in 2008."

High oil prices = domestic E&P! Go Eagle Ford , and Tuscaloosa.

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