Why Oil Prices Are About to Collapse
by The Oil Drum
All is not as it appears in the global oil markets, which have become entirely dysfunctional and no longer fit for its purpose, in my view. I believe that the market price is about to collapse as it did in 2008, and that this will mark the end of an era in which the market has been run by and on behalf of trading and financial intermediaries.
In this post I forecast the imminent death of the crude oil market and I identify the killers; the re-birth of the global market in crude oil in new form will be the subject of another post.
Global Oil Pricing
The “Brent Complex” is aptly named, being an increasingly baroque collection of contracts relating to North Sea crude oil, originally based upon the Shell “Brent” quality crude oil contract that originated in the 1980s.
It now consists of physical and forward BFOE (the Brent, Forties, Oseberg and Ekofisk fields) contracts in North Sea crude oil; and the key ICE Europe BFOE futures contract, which is not a deliverable contract and is purely a financial bet based upon the price in the BFOE forward market.
There is also a whole plethora of other ‘over the counter’ (OTC) contracts involving not only BFOE, but also a huge transatlantic “arbitrage” market between the BFOE contract and the US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contract originated by NYMEX, but cloned by ICE Europe.
North Sea crude oil production has been in secular decline for many years, and even though the North Sea crude oil benchmark contract was extended from the Brent quality to become BFOE, there are now only about 60 cargoes each of 600,000 barrels of BFOE quality crude oil (and as low as 50 when maintenance is under way) delivered out of the North Sea each month, worth at current prices about $4 billion.
It is the ‘Dated’ or spot price of these cargoes – as reported by the oil price reporting service Platts in the ‘Platts Window’– that is the benchmark for global oil prices either directly (about 60%) or indirectly, through BFOE/WTI arbitrage for most of the rest.
It will be seen that traders of the scale of the oil majors and sovereign oil companies do not really have to put much money at risk by their standards in order to acquire enough cargoes to move or support the global market price via the BFOE market.
Indeed, the evolution of the BFOE market has been a response to declining production and the fact that traders could not resist manipulating the market by buying up contracts and “squeezing” those who had sold forward oil they did not have, causing them very substantial losses. The fewer cargoes produced, the easier the underlying market is to manipulate.
As a very knowledgeable insider puts it….
The Platts window is the most abused market mechanism in the world.