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The Oil Bubble II
NRO Financial ^ | November 30, 2004 | Frederick P. Leuffer

Posted on 11/30/2004 7:25:27 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot

November 30, 2004, 8:40 a.m. The Oil Bubble II Listen for the “pop.”

In my column last month (“The Oil Bubble: Set to Burst?”) I discussed the speculative factors that pushed oil prices to all-time highs. I pointed out that despite fear of supply outages stemming from terrorism and a series of odd events, virtually every fear so far has gone unrealized: Terrorism has not removed a single barrel of oil production. Oil output in Saudi Arabia, instead of falling due to terrorism as some have feared, has increased by more than 1 million barrels a day. OPEC has steadily increased production and consistently outpaced analyst estimates of its capacity. Production at Russian oil giant Yukos has not fallen. And, despite a difficult war in Iraq, production in that country has averaged 2 million barrels a day this year — a 68 percent year-over-year increase. The only meaningful supply interruption to hit the oil industry this year was four back-to-back hurricanes in the southeastern U.S.

All of these non-shocks are sucking some of the speculative air out of oil prices. In the past three weeks, despite no significant developments on the macro front, oil prices have fallen by more than $9 a barrel to around $46. There was a similar correction at the end of August when fears of a terrorist attack during the Republican convention went unrealized. The “fear” premium in oil, approximately $15 a barrel currently, fluctuates with events, but I continue to believe that the absence of a significant prolonged supply outage will gradually push speculative money out of oil.

In addition to speculation and fear, improvement in demand earlier this year played a role in the oil-price rise. Growing oil consumption led to concern about the level of spare production capacity and a debate about how much of the upswing in oil prices was due to speculation and how much might be due to fundamentals. Until recently, oil-price appreciation did not seem to affect consumption. However, this is no longer the case.

U.S. oil demand grew 1.6 percent in the third quarter, down from 2.3 percent in the first half, according to the Department of Energy. Gasoline demand in the third quarter was flat with a year ago, after increasing 2.4 percent in the first half. In third-quarter conference calls, every major oil company and independent refiner that provided domestic same-store gasoline-sales information noted deterioration. Conservation and changes in consumer preferences (both in response to high gasoline prices) and perhaps the modest slowdown in economic growth have impacted demand.

Gasoline demand typically falls when the nationwide average retail price exceeds $1.60 a gallon. Currently, the average retail gasoline price is $2.01 a gallon. In a relatively short period of time, consumer preferences have changed. Sales of mid- and large-size sport utility vehicles declined 1 percent in the third quarter despite large discounts and rebates offered by manufacturers. At the same time, sales of fuel-efficient hybrids — such as the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius — grew more than tenfold in the third quarter from a year ago.

The importance of the U.S. gasoline market cannot be overstated given its size. Third-quarter gasoline demand was 9.2 million barrels a day. Demand for this one product matches the consumption of all petroleum products in China, India, and all of Eastern Europe combined. Even a small change in U.S. gasoline consumption has a pronounced impact on world oil demand.

U.S. jet fuel consumption has also slowed. The DOE reports that jet-fuel demand growth slowed from 3.2 percent in the first half of 2004 to 1.7 percent in the third quarter. While the growth rate in available seat miles for commercial flights declined modestly, the slowdown in fuel consumption may be influenced more by cost-cutting measures. As fuel prices rose airlines reduced engine idle time when planes were not in motion, cut wind resistance by polishing aircraft exteriors on more frequent schedules, and reduced flight speeds and the amount of fuel carried.

Chinese oil consumption has also been strong, but estimates show a slowdown from the torrid pace of earlier this year. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil demand increased by 19 percent in the first quarter and 25 percent in the second, but only 7 percent in the third.

More recently, the Chinese government has moved to slow consumption and economic growth by allowing refined product prices to rise (although prices remain below world market levels), tightening credit, and increasing interest rates. Also, coal-fired power generation has reportedly increased, reducing the call on more expensive diesel-powered generators.

Historically, China’s oil demand has grown fast, averaging just under 6 percent annually in the past decade, although growth has been erratic. The International Energy Agency estimates that oil demand grew 19.3 percent in 1993, followed by no growth in 1994. Similarly, demand grew by 7 percent in 2000, only to be followed by 2 percent growth in 2001.

Meanwhile, on the supply end, oil production outside of OPEC has reached a record high at more than 50 million barrels a day in October, according to the IEA. Aside from the hurricane impact, production has been steadier this year than in the past. Production should rise by 600,000 barrels a day in the fourth quarter as shut-in Gulf of Mexico production returns and new fields in West Africa ramp up. In 2005, non-OPEC production should rise by 1.3 million barrels a day compared with world oil-demand growth of 1.4 million barrels a day.

As for OPEC, production has surpassed everyone’s expectations, with production higher than expected for the most unlikely members — Libya, Iran, and Nigeria. Since mid-year 2003, these three nations have increased production by 800,000 barrels a day. In the same time frame, OPEC (excluding Venezuela and Iraq) has increased production by 2.3 million barrels a day. In total, OPEC has increased output by over 4 million barrels a day to 30.3 million barrels a day.

After a pullback in U.S. crude-oil inventories in August, as refined products built, and the hurricane effects of September, oil stocks have resumed their upward course. This confirms industry data showing that supply has exceeded demand all year. Year to date, DOE data show that crude-oil inventories held by industry rose by 19 million barrels. Inventories rose in each of the past six weeks, by a total of 20.2 million barrels, as hurricane recovery began. In addition, the U.S.-government-held Strategic Petroleum Reserve has increased by 33.3 million barrels so far this year, with other reserves worldwide also in well-built positions.

The recent retreat in oil prices reflects only a small pinhole in the oil bubble. Fundamentally, oil prices should be in the high $20-a-barrel range today, based on supply/demand economics and current inventory levels. Eventually, the barrel price should decline to the low $20s as oil inventories continue to build. The oil price still reflects about $15 a barrel of speculation.

The oil bubble will indeed burst. The inventory rise will continue, thereby justifying a lower price fundamentally and reducing the fear premium. Production should grow on schedule without major interruptions. The absence of a supply shock should also reduce speculation. Finally, a weakening price will feed on itself.

— Frederick P. Leuffer, CFA, is senior managing director and senior energy analyst for Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc.


TOPICS: Business/Economy
KEYWORDS: energyprices; oil; opec

1 posted on 11/30/2004 7:25:27 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot
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To: Toddsterpatriot; Willie Green
Meanwhile, on the supply end, oil production outside of OPEC has reached a record high at more than 50 million barrels a day in October, according to the IEA. Aside from the hurricane impact, production has been steadier this year than in the past. Production should rise by 600,000 barrels a day in the fourth quarter as shut-in Gulf of Mexico production returns and new fields in West Africa ramp up. In 2005, non-OPEC production should rise by 1.3 million barrels a day compared with world oil-demand growth of 1.4 million barrels a day.

As for OPEC, production has surpassed everyone’s expectations, with production higher than expected for the most unlikely members — Libya, Iran, and Nigeria. Since mid-year 2003, these three nations have increased production by 800,000 barrels a day. In the same time frame, OPEC (excluding Venezuela and Iraq) has increased production by 2.3 million barrels a day. In total, OPEC has increased output by over 4 million barrels a day to 30.3 million barrels a day.

Hey Willie, didn't you say globalism was causing oil production to fall? According to this it keeps rising. Maybe you were mistaken?

2 posted on 11/30/2004 7:29:57 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
--snip--As fuel prices rose airlines reduced engine idle time when planes were not in motion, cut wind resistance by polishing aircraft exteriors on more frequent schedules, and reduced flight speeds and the amount of fuel carried.

Very interesting.

3 posted on 11/30/2004 7:30:43 AM PST by biblewonk (Neither was the man created for woman but the woman for the man.)
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To: Toddsterpatriot

Experiment: Ask ten people on the street why gas prices are higher now than last year, and you'll get "Iraq" as the answer eight times, and "Bush" as the other two.


4 posted on 11/30/2004 7:30:45 AM PST by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: Toddsterpatriot

While I basically agree with this assessment notice that every single fact mentioned buttresses the bearish argument. It's inconceivable that there aren't at least some facts that would support the other side of the argument but these are omitted. Just an observation.


5 posted on 11/30/2004 7:33:01 AM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: biblewonk
Yeah, you know what? Maybe there's a connection there between the price of something and people's willingness to increase efficiency !

We should hav a government study to find out more about this...

6 posted on 11/30/2004 7:33:52 AM PST by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: Toddsterpatriot

Has anyone noticed that we're (Avg Americans) almost to the point of acceptance when it comes to HIGH gas prices at the pumps? It was the plan all along...

Has everyone forgotten the HUGE spikes in gasoline prices at the pumps which were based on speculation of terror, weather and other falsities which never materialized? Were these "profits" that were extorted from us ever returned to us in the form of lower prices?

LOL Scam after Scam after Scam... Why do we continually tolerate the intolerable!



7 posted on 11/30/2004 7:34:52 AM PST by odoso (Millions for charity, but not one penny for tribute!)
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To: Izzy Dunne

Today SA announced that they will up oil production again. Likely they want to kill plans to try to drill in ANWR and stiffle efforts to broadly market hybrid cars. They can do this by making oil and gas periodically cheaper. We are headed for a cheaper time.

As a full time RV'er, I get to drive again, just in time for the snow birds.


8 posted on 11/30/2004 7:35:32 AM PST by KC_for_Freedom (Sailing the highways of America, and loving it.)
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To: Izzy Dunne

Unnecessary sarcasm alert!


9 posted on 11/30/2004 7:37:32 AM PST by biblewonk (Neither was the man created for woman but the woman for the man.)
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To: Toddsterpatriot; All
I've heard it said that in "real", inflation adjusted terms, we are actually paying the same or less for gas than 30-40 years ago.

It sounds reasonable to me.

Has anyone else heard that?

10 posted on 11/30/2004 7:39:27 AM PST by rightwingreligiousfanatic (You cannot stop me...... I'll just make...... a "move"........)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
The recent retreat in oil prices reflects only a small pinhole in the oil bubble. Fundamentally, oil prices should be in the high $20-a-barrel range today, based on supply/demand economics and current inventory levels. Eventually, the barrel price should decline to the low $20s as oil inventories continue to build.

Am I missing something here?? This guy says oil is going to drop another $20 a barrel?? C'mon...

11 posted on 11/30/2004 7:39:39 AM PST by SoFloFreeper
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To: odoso

Exactly, the $2.25 price per gallon were all about getting people used to paying around $1.90 or so without a complaint. Now when the local Costco has regular unleaded for $1.85 people go nuts. It was not that long ago, that gas was going for a buck thirty five or so. We have been fleeced, and no one coming on here will convince me that the oil companies did not plan to drive prices high, using the WOT as cover. Thanks GW, for doing nothing about this, we have been fleeced with the permission and blessing of the "Powers that Be" again.


12 posted on 11/30/2004 7:42:13 AM PST by jeremiah (Sunshine scares all of them, for they are all cockaroaches)
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To: odoso
Has anyone noticed that we're (Avg Americans) almost to the point of acceptance when it comes to HIGH gas prices at the pumps?

Adjusted for inflation, gas prices are around where they've been for the past 18 years.


13 posted on 11/30/2004 7:44:07 AM PST by malakhi
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To: rightwingreligiousfanatic

See my #13.


14 posted on 11/30/2004 7:45:00 AM PST by malakhi
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To: jeremiah

"Thanks GW, for doing nothing about this"

Tell me again, how the president can do anything to control the stock market?

These high prices were based on a 'speculative' outcome of (possibly) predicted disasters that didn't occur.

Releasing part of the reserve into the market would have done nothing, especially since the market is 'flooded' with oil as it is.

How is the president supposed to 'control' this?


15 posted on 11/30/2004 7:51:00 AM PST by Bigh4u2
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To: jeremiah

I have to admit, the plan is brilliant! and it's not just executed in the petroleum arena.

Not so sure it's all GW... However, it would be nice if someone or something stepped in and stopped the extortion.


16 posted on 11/30/2004 7:51:46 AM PST by odoso (Millions for charity, but not one penny for tribute!)
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To: SoFloFreeper
"Am I missing something here?? This guy says oil is going to drop another $20 a barrel?? C'mon..."

I believe the price spikes, more than anything else, were generated by the commodity traders. When the calls start coming due, the price will tumble.

Demand has not risen to justify the price increase. Some, yes. Almost triple, no.
17 posted on 11/30/2004 7:53:25 AM PST by Clay Moore
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To: malakhi

Forgive my ignorance..., but does that mean the prior to the high prices, we've (Avg Americans) have been ripping off the oil companies?


18 posted on 11/30/2004 7:54:28 AM PST by odoso (Millions for charity, but not one penny for tribute!)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
Third-quarter gasoline demand was 9.2 million barrels a day. Demand for this one product matches the consumption of all petroleum products in China, India, and all of Eastern Europe combined.

Wow. I didn't realize that US gasoline consumption was quite this significant.

19 posted on 11/30/2004 7:56:14 AM PST by Obadiah
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To: jeremiah
"We have been fleeced, and no one coming on here will convince me that the oil companies did not plan to drive prices high, using the WOT as cover."

If the oil companies actually had control of oil prices, you would see stable prices and the obligatory ~4% price increase at the beginning of the year like most other industries do.

Do not try to tell me they had control when plummeted to $10 per barrel some years ago. A lot of small companies from drillers, oil service companies, and refiners went tango union as a result.
20 posted on 11/30/2004 8:00:15 AM PST by Clay Moore
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To: odoso
Forgive my ignorance..., but does that mean the prior to the high prices, we've (Avg Americans) have been ripping off the oil companies?

It means that, contrary to the predictions of the doomsayers on the left (who have predicted shortages of everything from oil to copper and other metals), commodity prices, when adjusted for inflation, have remained steady or fallen over the past 30 years. In a reasonably free market, there is no "ripping off" of either party -- the buyer and seller agree on the price. A significant percentage of the absolute price increase over the past decade can be blamed on the government, due to higher gasoline taxes, and to environmental mandates requiring refineries to produce special formula gasolines for specific markets. Instead of mass-producing one type of regular unleaded, to be sold across the country, refineries must make smaller amounts of many special blends. This increases production costs, and also increases the risk of price spikes if there are facility problems at a refinery.

21 posted on 11/30/2004 8:03:05 AM PST by malakhi
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To: malakhi; All
Thanks! That's just what I thought. So why all the fuss about gas prices? As a percentage of our total expenditures they are actually less than in the past and have always been significantly less than what citizens of other countries have to pay.

This is Non-Issue.

Be glad you live in this great country, with great, efficient corporations that provide goods and services at the lowest cost possible....

22 posted on 11/30/2004 8:07:46 AM PST by rightwingreligiousfanatic (You cannot stop me...... I'll just make...... a "move"........)
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To: SoFloFreeper
Am I missing something here?? This guy says oil is going to drop another $20 a barrel?? C'mon...

It was in the $10 range in the late '80s.

23 posted on 11/30/2004 8:09:34 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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To: Bigh4u2

He could have told them that price gouging would not be tolerated. Set the Justice Dept to investigate this(instead of watching head shops), thereby causing second thoughts amongst the crooked enterprises. That would have gone a long way to keeping prices at least slightly lower, and would have been the miminum required.


24 posted on 11/30/2004 8:15:14 AM PST by jeremiah (Sunshine scares all of them, for they are all cockaroaches)
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To: malakhi

I understand what your saying and agree with most of it; even though you haven't answered the question directly.

But if that's true, then why not a gradual shift in price?


25 posted on 11/30/2004 8:18:23 AM PST by odoso (Millions for charity, but not one penny for tribute!)
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To: Clay Moore

When the price dropped to around $10 a barrel, the big boys just consolidated power. It is the same with the EPA regulations. They complain about them, while silently cheering. It chased out nearly all of the independent stations, as they could not afford to replace the tanks in the ground yet again.


26 posted on 11/30/2004 8:18:28 AM PST by jeremiah (Sunshine scares all of them, for they are all cockaroaches)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
In addition, the U.S.-government-held Strategic Petroleum Reserve has increased by 33.3 million barrels so far this year, with other reserves worldwide also in well-built positions.

A recent ForbesMag columnist calculated a ten dollar / barrel premium on the Guvment's buying spree for the Strategery Reserve, which will go on through early '04, apparently, when the tanks will be full. Just another IOU Dubya is paying for Clintoon. As oil falls, look for various other current hysterias to settle, including the dollar, inflation, etc.

27 posted on 11/30/2004 8:21:36 AM PST by nicollo
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To: Toddsterpatriot
Hey Willie, didn't you say globalism was causing oil production to fall?

DOMESTIC production, dummy.

Despite political promises to make us less dependent on imported energy,
domestic oil production has steadily declined from 9.2 million bbls/day in '73 to 5.4 million bbls/day in '04.
Imported oil, OTOH, has skyrocketed to over 10 million bbls/day, making us dependent on foreign nations for 2/3 of our supply.
(source)

28 posted on 11/30/2004 8:34:34 AM PST by Willie Green
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To: odoso
I understand what your saying and agree with most of it; even though you haven't answered the question directly.

You asked if, prior to the high prices, American consumers had been "ripping off" the oil companies. My answer was no, in a relatively free market, there is no such thing as "ripping off" the other party in the transaction. Buyer and seller agree on price.

But if that's true, then why not a gradual shift in price?

A few reasons. First, like the stock market, some of the price movement is due to the action of speculators. Second, an unexpected, temporary drop in supply (due, say, to a hurricane hitting an oil refinery) will cause a sudden spike in price. Also, in the gasoline market, there is a very tight balance between supply and demand. It is not as if people can stop buying gasoline entirely if the price increases. So it takes a proportionally higher increase in price in order to bring demand into line with the available supply.

29 posted on 11/30/2004 8:38:28 AM PST by malakhi
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To: Willie Green
DOMESTIC production, dummy.

Nice try Willie, here's what you said:

"You mean how globalism reduces productive capacity to drive up prices for those commodities?"

Willie Wisdom

How does increasing oil production in a global market equal reduced productive capacity?

You really think we could produce 9.2 million bbls/day in the US now? Or 15.4 million bbls/day?

30 posted on 11/30/2004 9:36:11 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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To: Toddsterpatriot

Oil is very near $50 and trending up.


31 posted on 11/30/2004 9:38:35 AM PST by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: jeremiah

Exactly what do you think the GW has to do with oil prices? If you want to blame someone, blame Clinton for allowing BP to sell Alaskan crude to Japan, ensuring that Alaskan crude trades on the world market. But even that is a difficult relationship to prove.

The best way to protect yourself from oil price increases is to buy stock in an oil company. Conoco-Phillips stock has more than doubled this year.


32 posted on 11/30/2004 9:50:26 AM PST by Eva
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To: Toddsterpatriot
How does increasing oil production in a global market equal reduced productive capacity?

Reduced DOMESTIC productive capacity.
Increased global production undermines domestic sources which are subjected to more stringent environmental regulations.
I cited refinery closings, but Toddsterpatriot "wisdom" denies that refineries have anything to do with petroleum production.

You really think we could produce 9.2 million bbls/day in the US now? Or 15.4 million bbls/day?

I think we can produce more than we do by drilling offshore and in ANWR, though not enough to completely offset imports. However, we can also significantly reduce our consumption by constructing electricly powered mass transportation systems in our more densely populated regions and urban areas: light-rail, high-speed rail and Maglev. It is not a panacea, but constructed over a period of time, such technology WILL make our transportation infrastructure less dependent on imported oil.

33 posted on 11/30/2004 9:52:54 AM PST by Willie Green
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To: Willie Green
Reduced DOMESTIC productive capacity. Increased global production undermines domestic sources which are subjected to more stringent environmental regulations.

Ok Willie, if domestic oil production drops 1 million bbls/day and world production increases by 3 million bbls/day and consumption remains the same, what happens to the price?

I cited refinery closings, but Toddsterpatriot "wisdom" denies that refineries have anything to do with petroleum production.

Willie, this sounds silly, even for you. Refineries have nothing, as in zero, to do with oil production. We could triple refining capacity in the US and that would add not one barrel to our domestic oil production.

I think we can produce more than we do by drilling offshore and in ANWR, though not enough to completely offset imports.

Whadda ya know, we agree. I don't agree with your train ideas but more nuclear wouldn't hurt either.

34 posted on 11/30/2004 10:01:44 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
Ok Willie, if domestic oil production drops 1 million bbls/day and world production increases by 3 million bbls/day and consumption remains the same, what happens to the price?

It increases because we've become less productive and the trade and budget deficits combine to devalue our currency.

35 posted on 11/30/2004 10:12:09 AM PST by Willie Green
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To: Willie Green
It increases because we've become less productive and the trade and budget deficits combine to devalue our currency.

Wow!! An extra 1 million bbls/day will cause our currency to be devalued? That will have a larger effect than an extra 2 million bbls/day sloshing around the world oil market? Interesting theory with no basis in fact.

How about if we produced all 16 million bbls a day we consume and then the Saudi Arabia's oilfields and pipelines were destroyed. What happens to the price of our oil?

36 posted on 11/30/2004 10:28:14 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
Interesting theory with no basis in fact.

It was custom designed to match the reality of your hypothesis.

37 posted on 11/30/2004 10:36:51 AM PST by Willie Green
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To: Willie Green

I guess supply and demand is a bit over your head? Maybe you have a cute quote from Marx about that?


38 posted on 11/30/2004 10:37:54 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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To: Toddsterpatriot
I guess supply and demand is a bit over your head?

Not at all.
You just erroneously assume that I take your babblings seriously.
Our petro-dependence isn't a simple short-term issue of economic supply and demand.
Global depletion in a long-term issue with severe national security ramifications.

39 posted on 11/30/2004 10:59:55 AM PST by Willie Green
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To: Toddsterpatriot; LowCountryJoe; 1rudeboy
"You mean how globalism reduces productive capacity to drive up prices for those commodities?"

Check this out, Willie says globalism reduces productive capacity for a global product, then he says he meant domestic production.

Then he tries to claim refineries have something to do with oil production. He doesn't understand supply and demand. I'm getting worried about him. Always talking about trains....Isn't one of the symptoms of Alzheimer's reverting to childhood? I'll bet when he was a kid he had a nice Lionel set under the tree. What do you think?

Can we get a neighbor to check on him?

40 posted on 11/30/2004 11:30:05 AM PST by Toddsterpatriot (Protectionists give me the Willies!!!)
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