Ridicule and Dismal Science

Guest essay by Tom Scott

Do you recall the last presidential election season, when the New York Times, Washington Post, and other media giants ridiculed those who argued that the US could bring retail gasoline prices down to $2.50 per gallon by maximizing production? Many pundits and “experts” read the same memo and went straight for Alinsky’s rule #5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” The mainstream media was flooded with similar messages, but here is a classic by Richard Thayler from March 31, 2012:

“Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, has promised us $2.50-a-gallon gasoline. But if we can suspend the law of supply and demand, why stop with gasoline? Why not $2.50 for one-carat diamonds, steak dinners and 18-year-old Scotch whiskey?”

Of course, the author knew the “proper” way to balance supply and demand and reduce gasoline prices:

“A better approach would be to gradually raise the gasoline tax to levels similar to those in Western Europe, where fuel-efficient cars are the norm. N. Gregory Mankiw — the Harvard economist who advises Mr. Romney and is a fellow contributor to the Economic View column — has long advocated such a policy. I agree with him, as do most other economists.”

Well, such ridicule helped to win an election later that year, but by the end of 2014 most US drivers could find gasoline for under $2.50 per gallon, and today EU energy consumers save about $50 per barrel of oil as compared to 2012 prices, almost a billion US dollars daily, due largely to the increase in US production and the ripple effects on the world market.

gasoline-prices

Source: https://blog.gasbuddy.com/Retail_Price_Chart.aspx

With that in mind, as discourse becomes heated this election season, remember that ridicule is a socio-political tactic, not a legitimate tool of the sciences.

 

Advertisements

101 thoughts on “Ridicule and Dismal Science

  1. Of course every learned person already knew that the least best way to curtail demand is to tax it. All taxes do is make things unattainable tor those that are the least financially stable

    • That is the methodology for staying in power. Tax the people to remove their money and convince them that they need you in power to save them from being poor.

    • And, I might add, over the objections of government (refusal to lease properties) and liberals (NO FRACKING!).

  2. Here in Germany, diesel is now about €1.14 per litre. Some months back, in the Summer when demand it high, it was down to €0.99 per litre at the discount retailers.

    On every fuel bowser at every gas station is a sticker informing the buyer that the tax is €0.86 per litre.

    This means that the evil oil companies can make record profits on revenues – shared with the retailer – of 13 cents per litre.

    And somehow, it’s a great boon to us all that the great and good government takes 5 times their revenues and gets deeper into debt every year, to the point where the same economists who agreed with Thaler are talking openly about the destruction of the Euro through sovereign debt default.

    • Your observation of diesel taxes in Germany being 86 ct. is not correct.

      “Auf jeden Liter Benzin lastet eine feste Energiesteuer von gut 65 Cent, bei Diesel sind es 47 Cent pro Liter. Dazu kommt die Mehrwertsteuer von 19 Prozent, die nicht nur auf die eigentlichen Kraftstoffkosten entfällt, sondern auch auf die Energiesteuer.”

      Fixed energy taxes for diesel is 47 cent per liter, plus value added tax of 19%.

      Check here:

      http://www.tz.de/auto/spritpreis-fallen-viel-steuern-zahlen-autofahrer-diesel-benzin-zr-6051413.html

      • to “naturbaumeister”:
        Cheeky green data manipulation juggling percentages and absolutes. You dont tell us that your quote refers to a total of only 92eurocents and neglects to mention that VAT (GST) of 19% is on the total, eg including the energy tax amount. Yes, they are taxing the tax!

        The energy taxes are 65% for gas/petrol and 47% for diesel. Then 19% ontop of the TOTAL amount.

        So yes the “Scuzza” post (85ct) can be correct, depending on the day price of the product.

  3. Not all demand is the same. Some is much less flexible than others, with food and fuel being the least flexible of all. Gasoline price fluctuations stem from this and the fact that supply is close to 100% capacity in the US.

    • Supply is always close to 100% of demand. That’s the way the free market works.
      Fuel is relatively inflexible in the short term, it is very flexible in the long term.
      Gas prices are down because new sources came online.

      • Supply of gasoline is limited by production capacity, which is NOT a free market item. If you don’t believe me, try to build a new refinery somewhere in the US, except maybe Texas. Or try to debottleneck an existing one. The regulators and the greens and the media will fight you every step of the way.

      • Mark,
        I beg to differ. New gasoline refineries did NOT come online. Oil prices, which is the feed stock for the refineries, did drop because of new production, which pushed down gasoline prices accordingly. Gasoline production volumes were not affected since they are already running at nearly 100% and have been for decades. Supply of gasoline is almost the definition of market inflexibility. And this will not change in the short term, or even the long term, depending on how you define “long”.

      • jorgekafkazar October 24, 2016 at 1:05 pm

        In a free market system supply rises to meet demand. When demand exceeds production, prices rise to the point where new production facilities become profitable. As production rises to meet demand prices fall.

    • The term used by economists is “price elasticity of demand”. Everybody used to think that the demand for gasoline was highly inelastic i.e. demand would be strong even as prices went up. However, the 1970s showed that gasoline demand to be more elastic than anyone thought. When the prices went up significantly American drivers changed their driving habits. Does anyone recall seeing a Japanese car in the U.S. prior to the 1970s? Before that cars were big and made of steel. Not any more. Price is still a major determinant of demand.

      • Charles,
        What you say is true. However, I still contend that the “price elasticity of demand”, as you put it, is much less for things like food and fuel. People can pull the belt a little tighter when price goes up, but only by a small amount compared to other consumer goods. Then they begin to cut back on those other things. Actually, this is pretty basic Econ 101.

      • Charles Dolci,

        Without trying to be argumentative, I have to vehemently disagree. I was a teenager and got my first driver’s license in the 1970s and had to put up with a lot of that cr@p. Economic “theory” is fine up to a point, but can be just as bad as CAGW when it misses the forest for the trees. First, people (I.e., me and millions of others) changed their driving habits when it was FORCED on them, like for instance, odd-even gas rationing. Also, the gas crisis was a geopolitical crisis caused by Saudi Arabia, not an actual shortage of oil or gas. At that time, I was a senior in high school and looking at two universities, one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania. I made my choice on the current (at that time) fuel crisis, and did not choose my preferred school. So with the utmost respect, F@ck you, fuel demand is inelastic because of all of the basic demands on people (work, school, shopping to feed the family, emergencies, etc.) that is hard for them to change. The only reason that

        American drivers changed their driving habits

        was because they were forced to, and it was very disruptive.

      • Quick follow-up. Based on the logic of your comment, you would also conclude that eating habits in Venezuela (and by extension, the old Soviet Union, North Korea, etc.) were

        more elastic than anyone thought.

        because when the store shelves were empty, they ate less.

      • Phil R, there is no difference between being “forced” to reduce consumption because of higher prices and reducing consumption because of higher prices. Both show how elastic demand is. As for food, you are confusing economic situations where there is more money than goods to buy and where there are more goods to buy than money to buy them all. The former is what happens under socialism.

        Paul Penrose, For petrol, elasticity can be high but it takes longer to appear, e.g. people buy a more efficient car but only when their existing car is up for renewal, not as soon as petrol prices go up. And car manufacturers only switch to new designs when its time to renew their product.

      • You may want to take a closer look at the oil situation of the 70’s. Something about OPEC and an export embargo to the US. Where exactly does that fit into free market economics? The current oil prices are in response to FRACKING. The Saudis almost bankrupted themselves trying to spike fracking and all they accomplished is made it more viable. The price of a barrel of oil is about $100 and gas is about $2.00 a gal. The last time oil was $100 /bl gas was about 50 cents a gal. The price difference is REGULATION!

      • The 1970’s “oil crisis” was manufactured, partly by the Saudi’s and the cartel restricting supply and partly by the US’s response. The restrictions on buying fuel, such as “odd/even” days or the amount allowed almost immediately got people to start buying fuel whenever they could, keeping the gas tank nearer full. Normal practice was to let the guage get down below 1/4 and then fill up. The rationing behavior tended to be “fill up if it’s down more than 1/4”. That effectively almost overnight added millions of gallons to the demand(~10gallons x 130million vehicles). That alone was almost enough to run the supply system empty. It didn’t help that people were buying 5 gal containers and filling them up and using them as spare gas if they planned a trip. Everybody I knew was doing it.

        Rationing, whatever the form, caused a huge drop in instantaneous supply and many empty gas stations.

  4. AS coach Toe Blake, the former coach of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club once informed a reporter when asked whether the team would win the next Stanley cup, “Predictions are for Gypsies”.

    • “Predictions are hard to make. Especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra

      (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. It’s one of my favorite Yogi quotes.)

      • That’s why we are getting projections, not predictions.

        It’s just them parsing words, and they use those “projections” just like they would with “predictions”, as a hammer.

        Which is sort of funny because they are made up out of bad science :)

        Oh, another weather report, It’s clear out this morning, air temp 41.0 at 85% rel humidity by my weather station, grass in the backyard was wet and 32.9F-33.1F or there about’s, and the sky was -64 or something.
        We do not have a co2 cooling problem from the surface of the Earth.

  5. There should a test for prognosticators, forecasters, regulatory agencies, and visionaries: They should have to disclose their past record for predicting the future.

    • Crap, when it comes to the past record of the GCMs, they can’t even predict the past beyond a short period with any skill.

  6. I wish I had a dollar for every fossil fuel demonizing statist claiming it would take a decade of drilling to reduce gas prices a few cents…

      • ST and PP,

        I agree with the sentiment of both of your comments, but the premise is that they want more drilling and cheaper gas. If they’re enviroloon statists against drilling in the first place and have a track record of success, why would they admit they were wrong.

  7. Thaler makes no sense. He says the president can’t control gasoline prices but then goes on to suggest the president raise the gasoline tax to curtail demand. And then goes on some tangent turning it into carbon emissions.

  8. What holds back oil and coal companies back from challenging the consensus gang, show me the proof, show me the paper that proves CAGW, or even AGW for that matter.

    • Good question. It may have to do with the fact that if they push back too hard, they’ll have a bigger throng of spittle-spewing regulators to deal with next time. And they do spew spittle; I’ve seen it.

    • @nc: As in the case of mined diamonds exempli gratia, if I as a consumer believe that a product is more “valuable” than perhaps it actually is — whether due to certain popularly advertised characteristics, or whether due to an alleged scarcity of the resource — that I am more likely to see a higher price as being “fair” than I otherwise would. Per the discussion up-thread regarding supply & demand economics, my guess has been that the oil companies are just as happy to have an artificially scarce supply (at least in the minds of many consumers), thus enabling a higher profit margin on the available demand.

      Economics is NOT my field of work/study, so I’m certainly open to counter examples and contrary theories.

  9. The reason for the current price in the US has three parts. 1. Slowdown in China demand. Likely transitory. 2. Saudi Iran rivalry, with Saudi refusing to be OPEC swing demand this time round. 3. US shale fracking resulting in transitory oversupply. (Transitory because of very steep fracked shale decline curves, ~85% in ~46 months.) Expect prices in the ~$60-70/bbl crude in next few months. Three reasons. 1. Global Demand is picking up again according to IEA, about 1%/yr in 2017. 2. Opec plus Russia will cut back production some in November. to raise prices to avoid going ‘bankrupt’. 3. That price gets US fracking again.
    Expect prices back to ~$100/bbl by 2020. Two reasons. 1. Pricing at around that level is needed for addtional deepwater, Athabasca bitumen, and western Siberia (Yamal giants) capacity to be developed. And they will soon be needed. 2. As productive as US shale is, the present TRR is only 15-18bbbl. World annual crude consumption is ~31bbbl excluding NGL and refinery gain. And existing conventional fields are declining 5-7%/yr per IEA survey of 800 largest fields producing over 2/3 of all crude, meaning new capacity of ~5.6bbbl annually is needed just to stand still on production. The total present US shale TRR, if (impossibly) produced to fill this gap, would last only ~3 years. And if tight (shale) crude recovery factors could somehow be doubled to ~3% (closer lateral spacing, more proppant, more fracks/lateral with newer plug and perf technique) it would all be gone in ~6 years. China is the only other country with oil shale resources possibly in place similar to US. But some of its oil shale basins like Sichuan have the same geological problem as the US Monterey–folded and faulted, so nothing horizontal to drill and frack. Effectively zero TRR.
    Several energy essays in ebook Blowing Smoke discuss and illustrate many of the nuances underlying this quick summary. There is as much misunderstanding about petroleum as there is about climate.

    • It is hard to argue against $60 oil by end of year, but there are lots of swirling forces which will buffet market prices. Fracking has imbalanced supply-demand to the point that several supplier nations are caught between the desire for a return to higher prices and the short-term need to sell quantities which will cover their locked-in social costs. In the meantime consumers continue to enjoy a nice holiday from $100 crude, and in the US the cost to re-frack existing plays and exploit new fields continues to drop. Interesting times!

      • Just read an article today in the WSJ about the drilled wells in fracking territory where the owners are just waiting for $60 and higher prices so they can make a killing. Most of the frakked gas/oil is profitable at $40 a barrel with the higher prices that were paid for drilling several years ago during the boom. Now that the demand has settled down they are planning to start drilling again to build up a bigger inventory of wells ready to frack.

      • Refracking is not so good if the original was a plug and perf job. Works mainly with the older sleeve jobs. It is true that the cost per new well continues to go down and recovery factors up. More powerful drill motors, more powerful pumps, more proppant, plug and perf,… That changes shale dynamics in the US, but not the global fundamentals driven by conventional petroleum, which is still significantly more than 90% of the total. Prices are set by marginal supply v. demand. The marginal supply is deepwater (e.g GoM and Brazil’s Santos and Campos basins) and the discovered but untapped 5 Yamal giants in Siberia at/ above the Arctic Circle, sourced from the Bahzenov shale that also sourced Samotlor, the world’s sixth largest field. Those need ~$100/bbl for capacity investment. Ditto Athabasca bitumen, but for a different reason. The production cost is less, but so is the production value, by about 1/3. Bitumen can be upgraded/converted to syncrude, but crude oil it isn’t.

      • LC, WSJ today were drilled during boom but not yet fracked because of bust wells. DUCs. With frack costs down, it is true those ~1500 wells will do very well above $60. But the reality is that except in the Permian Basin (where infrastructure already exists since a century, most shale isn’t profitable for new well drilling plus fracking until about $70 because you also have to build out the infrastructure. Disposal wells and water separation plants. Oil and gas pipeline gathering systems. Estimates vary because depends so much on local geology and location, plus the shale operators do not disclose finances at this level of detail.
        Bakken oil is transported by train, not pipeline. Warren Buffet owns the train line, so opposed Keystone XL. Owns wind farms to harvest the tax credits and subsidies. Said himself otherwise makes no sense.

    • Petroleum is formed in sediments, either shale or sand. It was only petro that formed, then naturally faulted beneath a trap that gave us the conventional Petro era. Conventional Petro has always been rare. Most kerogen formations that were geologically folded and faulted leaked their petro long before humans evolved. Save LaBrea and Dead Sea stuff which is due to their proximity to active fault zones.
      Unconventional petro has far greater future TRR than the sum of conventional including deep water conshelf and international potentials.

      The nascent unconventional field in Texas known as the Eagle Ford Shale has dwindled because the same techniques work in the Permian Basin (some 275 miles or more NW). Plus the PB had been producing conventional petro for 50+ years so legal and technical resources are organic.

    • Oil reserves continue to be underestimated. According to USGS estimates in the 1970’s
      the US ran out of oil in the 1990’s. According to some great statisticians, we were at peak
      oil ~10 years ago.

      The first oil shortage was declared in the 1850’s. There have been many since then. They
      have all been wrong. Recovery technology improves and geology improves. New shale
      is being found everywhere. Below are a few examples.

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-10-07/paris-oil-drillers-seek-100-billion-barrels-next-to-brie-farms-vineyards

      https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/apr/09/west-sussex-oilfield-could-produce-50-to-100m-barrels-of-oil

      http://www.nasdaq.com/article/major-shale-find-could-guarantee-israels-oil-supply-for-years-cm528693

      http://heggcompanies.com/2013/09/estimates-of-oil-in-bakken-keep-getting-bigger/

  10. The question Thayler posed was:
    “Do you believe that they are something a president can control? Many Americans believe that the answer is yes, but any respectable economist will tell you that the answer is no.”

    Gingrich said that if he were elected president, gas prices would come down to $2.50. Well, Gas prices came down, but it was Obama who was elected. Does that mean presidents can control gas prices? And Obama did it? It seems there is a dilemma there.

    • Depends, did Gingrich say:

      Gingrich said that if he were elected president, gas prices would come down to $2.50.

      or did he say:

      Gingrich said that ONLY if he were elected president, gas prices would come down to $2.50.

      Could be you are reading the first case as though it was the second. Finding meaning that does not exist.

      • “Could be you are reading the first case as though it was the second.”
        Gingrich was rather definite:
        “He announced that his campaign would make coffee mugs and mouse pads comparing his promise of $2.50-a-gallon gas with a $10-a-gallon projected price under the president’s policies. It will be a winning issue for Republicans, Mr. Gingrich said, if he becomes the nominee.”
        So yes, he’s saying that his election would make that much difference vs Obama. He’s saying that presidents control gas prices, and Thayler is being castigated here for saying they don’t.

        But OK, if Thayler is wrong, then Obama brought down gas prices.

      • Still wrong Nick. Sorry. Gingrich possibly had some inside information before he made that comment. Obama did everything he could to keep prices high, but the fracking boom simply walked all over him. I suspect that’s why he toned down the climate rhetoric for awhile. Now that time is running out he’s back to hyping climate change(as if it were something new) at every opportunity. He wasn’t the only one who got blindsided. Almost all the economists did. Most of the oil traders did prior to mid 2011. It takes some time to unwind stock and futures positions that are underwater.

    • More smoke screen than anything, but I’ll bite (I’m a sucker). Of course the President can have some effect on prices, especially on oil since the government owns so much land that has oil reserves under it. AND the President has quite a bit of influence on when/if it is exploited (by the granting of leases). Now, can he affect it as much as Mr. Gingrich claimed? Unlikely. I’d put it in the “over promise” category of which politicians are so good at. Perhaps he anticipated some of the market forces which ultimately reduced the price of oil (and gasoline in response, to Obama’s dismay, I’m sure) and was hoping to take credit for it later. Who knows for sure. But really, at this point, what does it matter anyway?

      • “But really, at this point, what does it matter anyway?”
        A reasonable question, but then, what was this head post about? A claim that Thayler ridiculed Gingrich for claiming that with Obama, you’d get $10 gas, while with G it would be $2.50. I don’t know whether Thayler was ridiculing, but it would seem to be a fair response.

      • Both missing the point. Governments can directly increase the price of anything – ban imports, make production more costly through regulation, reduce production through regulation, prevent new production through refusing planning consent, increase taxes and so on.

        Governments cannot (unless they invest in production or innovation themselves) directly decrease prices. They can however get out if the way and allow capitalists to decrease prices by increasing production and through innovation and efficiency.

        This is the central problem for statuses and the Left.

    • “Gingrich said that if he were elected president, gas prices would come down to $2.50. Well, Gas prices came down, but it was Obama who was elected. Does that mean presidents can control gas prices? And Obama did it? It seems there is a dilemma there.”

      Obama did nothing to bring down gasoline prices. If Obama had his preference, we would be paying $5.00 per gallon. You are a pretty smart guy, Nick. I’m wondering why you even asked that question. Surely, you already knew the answer.

      I filled up my gasoline tank today and it cost me $1.89 per gallon.

      Here’s something to keep in mind when thinking about gasoline prices: For every decrease of 0.80 cents per gallon, the U.S. GDP increases by one percent, and every increase of 0.80 cents per gallon reduces the U.S. GDP by one percent. One percent of U.S. GDP is a pretty large figure.

      Low gasoline prices are very good for the U.S. economy. The lower the better.

      Gasoline taxes hit the poorest Americans the hardest, and low gasoline prices are a boon to the poor. If you claim to be for the poor, you won’t support any tax increase on the cost of gasoline, and will do all you can to keep the prices as low as possible.

      • “You are a pretty smart guy, Nick. I’m wondering why you even asked that question. Surely, you already knew the answer.”
        Sounds like you’re agreeing with Thayler that presidents (including Obama) can’t control gas prices. Seems likely right to me. But that’s characterised here as “ridicule and the dismal science”.

        Just looking for some consistency here. If it’s reasonable for Gingrich to say that electing him would bring gas down to $2.50, then if electing Obama did bring gas prices down to $2.50, Obama should get the credit. If not reasonable, as Thayler said, then not.

      • Mr Stokes, what Gingrich was attempting to do was take actions that should increase supply, which should lower prices. Obama did the opposite, trying to lower the supply. Are you argueing that the effect of Gingrich’s policies would have been a price increase?

      • ” Are you argueing that the effect of Gingrich’s policies would have been a price increase?”
        No. I’m agreeing with Thayler and the dismal sciemtists that presidents don’t have much influence on gas prices. But if you think otherwise, then OK, with Obama post 2012, they came down, as the head post indicates.

      • “No. I’m agreeing with Thayler and the dismal sciemtists that presidents don’t have much influence on gas prices.”

        Nick, it looks like we are all on the same page on this issue, then.

        As Tom Halla said, Gingrich was talking about increasing oil supplies as a way to reduce the price of gasoline. We currently have increased oil supplies and the prices are cheaper than $2.50 per gallon.

        Gingrich’s policy might have lowered the prices sooner than actually happened, but as we can see, Obama’s actions and inactions hampered oil supply development, but not enough to keep the supply from increasing enough to give us lower gasoline prices, despite Obama’s detrimental actions and inactions.

        Presidents can’t do much to move the U.S. economy in a beneficial direction either, other than cutting taxes and reducing regulations to a bare minimum. Just about anything else a president does to the economy ends up being bad for the economy (Obamacare for example).

        The Free Market is what works. Anything that interferes with that is bad for the economy, and that includes presidential meddling of just about any kind.

        The politicians need to get out of the way and let the economy flourish. Of course, the Left cannot do that, as it goes against their political philosophy. They are all about getting in the way of everything and wanting to control everything to suit themselves.

      • A President competent in political leadership could have forced regulations and taxes on the oil industry to drive prices to $5 a barrel today, regardless of the drilling being on private lands. That Obama failed to achieve his goal only underscores his own political incompetence. The country is very fortunate that Obama can only get limited support from his own party, and is restrained by law on what he can do on his own with his phone and pen.

        The drop in gas prices was most certainly in spite of his actions. The drop under Gingrich would have been more dramatic, and because of his actions.

  11. ““A better approach would be to gradually raise the gasoline tax to levels similar to those in Western Europe…”

    I was immediately reminded of this clip from “A Few Good Men”:

  12. Notice that Thayer was asking an ECONOMIST about the future prices of gasoline. Since when do economists know all about oil recovery methods, etc? Notice that he didn’t ask a person who was an expert in the field.of oil recovery. Apparently Thayer thinks everyone who is on Harvard’s faculty is an expert on everything and anything.

    • Economist, definition of:

      A person who has a piece of paper saying they studied economics which enables them to make wild ass guesses without fear of retribution.

  13. Expert prediction made (link and quote below), 2008. Target of prediction, 2012.
    Outcome: the opposite happened.
    “Suddenly a world in which oil costs well over US$100 a barrel isn’t just the dream of a terrorist bent on destroying the United States and its allies. It is reality. Oil recently hit US$135 a barrel, more than double where it was a year ago. And the once unimaginable prospect of oil at US$200 a barrel is gaining currency among the world’s most respected oil watchers. Jeff Rubin, chief economist with CIBC World Markets, predicts oil will rocket to that level by 2012. Goldman Sachs figures we’ll get there even sooner. Other analysts, meanwhile, have begun to float more startling figures, of oil at US$250, even US$300 a barrel.”
    From: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/soaring-energy-costs-to-change-everything/

    • That was a stupid ‘ruler projection’ at the time. Oil demand is inelastic; supply isn’t. Demand exceeded supply for a few months in 2008. Saudis fixed by upping production. Then the subprime financial crisis hit, demand fell in US and Europe, and supply exceeded demand so prices plummeted. It was easy to forecast that prices would rise again as the financial shock wore off. Showed how to do so in ebook Gaia’s Limits using supply curve analysis. What happened in 2014 was quite different. See comment upthread. But it is still fairly easy to get a general sense of what will unfold over the next few months and years given basic factual knowledge of global petroleum production. Just more supply curve analysis.

      • I recently came across these words of wisdom on an oil related blog (and here I paraphrase) “only two kind of people can confidently predict the future oil price, gods and fools.
        And we do not wish to pretend that we are the former, for fear that we will discover we are the latter.”
        I was suckered into believing in those “heading to $200” predictions.
        Fortunately I was only a market watcher at the time and staked no money on that assumption.
        A lesson learned for me though.

    • This is another example of why we should never believe journalists. They can’t just tell us what’s happening. They have to reach for more eyeballs, not to mention hearts and minds. That desire leads to exaggeration and as journalism becomes less honest and relevant, losing even more attention, that desire becomes an imperative. Finally we have media that is deliberately deceptive and dishonest, and virtually only read by those already converted to the journal’s political point of view. This has terrible consequences for modern societies.

  14. Every time that the gas prices would spike the democrats would scream that it would take 8-10 years to bring new sources online, then would stifle new drilling. A president whose name is not obama said drill baby drill. Obama did his best to stifle the drilling and fracking but is was mostly on state land and he had no power to stop what was started. All of a sudden we are almost oil self sufficient, and opec has lost control of the market. The democrats now want to stop this because they scream about fracking and the fake global warming scam.

  15. Ristvan,
    I always like to read your posts as they are very informative.
    I have worked in the energy business for over 50 years and followed the oil price closely , and one thing I have learned is that predicting the price of crude is very difficult even for large energy corporations, who employ large numbers of the smartest and most highly paid college graduates in an attempt to predict pricing often without success. I even worked on coal to gasoline conversion in the 80’s when crude prices were rising rapidly and everybody was predicting $100/bbl crude price. These expensive ventures were cancelled one by one when the Saudi’s decided to kill the competition. We laid off numerous engineers because of the cancellations. I also worked for an early oil sands venture that was almost cancelled as crude prices fell to $12/bbl in the late 70’s, lucky they looked long term and made a fortune in latter years. Based on their capital on the ground, they do not need $100/barrel to stay in business while more recent projects may have to eat some loss and wait for higher prices to recover investment. New construction probably delayed.

    Similarly there are still opportunities for increased production in the US including off limit known reserves in Alaska, Government lands, and offshore which could affect US production.

    I suggest that your short term predictions may be correct but don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of the Free market to continue to find new oil with even better technology, these guys have a remarkable track record if not constrained by the government with it’s stupid regulations.

    Below is the history of US oil production which has recently fallen off slightlydue to pricing
    https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=WCRFPUS2&f=W

    U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil (Thousand Barrels per Day)
    Decade Year-0 Year-1 Year-2 Year-3 Year-4 Year-5 Year-6 Year-7 Year-8 Year-9

    1920’s 1,210 1,294 1,527 2,007 1,951 1,700 2,112 2,469 2,463 2,760
    1930’s 2,460 2,332 2,145 2,481 2,488 2,723 3,001 3,500 3,324 3,464
    1940’s 4,107 3,847 3,796 4,125 4,584 4,695 4,749 5,088 5,520 5,046
    1950’s 5,407 6,158 6,256 6,458 6,342 6,807 7,151 7,170 6,710 7,054
    1960’s 7,035 7,183 7,332 7,542 7,614 7,804 8,295 8,810 9,096 9,238
    1970’s 9,637 9,463 9,441 9,208 8,774 8,375 8,132 8,245 8,707 8,552
    1980’s 8,597 8,572 8,649 8,688 8,879 8,971 8,680 8,349 8,140 7,613
    1990’s 7,355 7,417 7,171 6,847 6,662 6,560 6,465 6,452 6,252 5,881
    2000’s 5,822 5,801 5,744 5,649 5,441 5,184 5,086 5,077 5,000 5,353
    2010’s 5,475 5,646 6,487 7,468 8,764 9,415

    • CC, I agree with you as to details and 3 month options. But let me tell you a true story that taught something quite different with respect to general price ‘steps’ in longer time frames. No good for predicting price within 10 % three months out. But very useful if you are a long term hedge fund player (I am not).
      Many moons ago, I was a part of a BCG team commissioned by one of the world’s largest forest products companies to decide wherher to invest in more SYP (southern yellow pine, a class not a species) plywood mills or to go to Canada and invest in waferboard mills made from boreal aspen, a structural substitute for most housing purposes like sheathing (but not flooring). My task as a near Ph.D econometrician was to figure out pricing volatility relative to fundamentally cheaper (bigger trees, less valuable land) douglas fir plywood shipped to the east coast from the Pacific Northwest. Well, any fool knows you cannot predict spot commodity prices. BUT, I noticed a longer cycle supply curve pattern. Any time housing starts east of the Mississippi got above west coast plus existing SYP basic capacity, 1/2CDX (the traded plywood commodity) jumped about 50% and stayed there until either housing starts dropped or east coast SYP capacity rose sufficiently. And then the new SYP capacity lost money at a ferocious rate. Based on which, going to Canada for flakeboard mills was a no brainer. Their total delivered cost was above West Coast Doug fir plywood shipped east of the Mississippi, yet well below new SYP because of the different woodshed tadius. . My clients made tens of millions off personal options bets, and the client company made hundreds of millions off the waferboard capacity investment.
      Sometimes the big picture is clear even if the short term trading picture is indeciferable. Regards.

      • Ristvan,
        Interesting, while I have not made millions, I have done well selling covered calls on oil and other stocks mostly in an IRA over the years. It seems as though the market in options generally bets that the oil stocks will rise more than they actually do increase in price, over the specified period of the option. I have probably done this for about 25 years and only once did the stock rise above the strike price so far that I was forced to let the stock go (at a profit). On another occasions the stock rose to the strike price but I could buy it back and sell an option out at a later date for a slight profit or break even.
        For those not familiar with options, selling is a conservative step, buying is a gamble in my mind. I only deal in selling covered call options with significant values over circa $3/share.
        I am not giving investment advice just may experience. BTW selling options can also be a small hedge if you are afraid of a significant fall in the market.
        Also watching oil or any other stock for 50 years gives one a historical perspective, which I don’t have for other stocks.
        Thanks for sharing your experience, it is always interesting.

  16. As far as ‘supply & demand’ goes in impacting the price, the supply (from the well-head) is a very slowly changing variable & impacts global oil pricing in small ways as is demand. *However*, since around year 2000 or so, the value of the dollar has had a MUCH greater impact on the price of oil since oil is traded in US Dollars.

    At GassBuddy.com you can graph historical prices of US gasoline & crude oil:
    http://www.gasbuddy.com/Charts
    select ‘US Average 10 Year’ box & check ‘Show Crude Oil Price’ box.

    Then, chart the historical US Dollar Value:
    http://www.macrotrends.net/1329/us-dollar-index-historical-chart
    Select a ’10 year’ span & drag the span to around 2006 & compare the dollar value to the oil price.

    Notice, as the dollar goes up, oil price goes down & vice-versa. At the end of the Bush administration, Bush started the QE I (Quantitative Easing Pt I) which accelerated the printing of the dollar. Dollar value went down & oil went up. Obama maintained the policy w/ QE II (US debt going through the roof at the same time BTW), the dollar stayed depressed while the oil price stayed up. Obama terminated the quantitative easing in 2014 and….the value of the dollar started to increase while the oil price started to decrease.

    OPEC did nothing to change the supply of oil (to ‘starve out’ the US fracking industry) so oil prices have stayed lower.

    So, yes, an administration *can* impact the price of oil…and other international trade.

  17. Tom: You have quoted Richard Thaler’s remarks out of context while trying to make your point. Thaler’s point was that gas prices are out of any American President’s control because those prices are controlled by a world market via supply and demand. US policy can only change the world production and consumption of petroleum to a modest extent. When OPEC cuts production in an attempt to drive up prices, US policy may be able to increase supply and occasionally temporarily and dramatically reduce the price, but the recent major price drop has put tremendous pressure on domestic producers and some of them have gone out of business. In the long run, the US President is fairly impotent in the face of world-wide market forces. US policy can effect what fraction of our petroleum is purchased from overseas – ie energy security – but that requires us to pay higher costs, either directly or through subsidies. Unnecessary environmental regulation increases cost and therefore drives production overseas.

    We do have $2.50/gallon gasoline today – not because we elected Newt Gingrich (a politician with an ego big enough to believe he could control a world market), and not because of anything Obama did. GLOBAL demand today is far less than expected when major investments were made in production (probably around a decade ago), including domestic fracking. That is probably the main reason the price is so low today. The domestic producers using fracking weren’t trying to reduce the price to $2.50 a gallon, they simply were looking to make a profit. Some/many MAY have a break even point around $50/barrel. If so, today’s prices won’t persist.

    If one believes that there are significant social costs associated with the use of petroleum, most economists believe that a Pigou tax is an appropriate policy. If you were to ask Thaler if there is an accurate way to calculate the social costs associated with petroleum use, whether today’s political system can implement a Pigou tax in an economically sensible way, and whether other taxes would be cut if a Pigou tax brought in significant new revenue; he and his peers would probably express more doubt. Funding our highways through a gas tax (a form of user fee) used to be sensible policy, but we can’t even do that today. When most of the benefits of economic growth have been flowing to the affluent for several decades (for whatever reason), sensible tax policy is difficult to implement.

    IMO, excessive mistrust of the establishment on both sides of the political spectrum is making many countries more difficult to govern. Let’s be sure our criticisms are accurate.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/business/gas-prices-are-out-of-any-presidents-control.html

    • I disagree with the NYT piece. Presidents and their administration, along with Congress can have great impact on prices.

      Look no further than Nixon-Ford-Carter Wage-Price Freeze and resulting regulation systems (New Oil vs Old Oil) as a text book case how government regulations can cause shortages followed by high prices even when the goal is price stability.

      Secondly, look no further than Reagan’s first few months in office. He repealed the gasoline price and supply regs in his first month in office. Gas prices dropped immediately. Lesson. Presidents can affect prices by eliminating counterproductive regulations.

      I object to the NYT article from another point of view. If they can establish the believe that Presidents cannot affect prices, then the President can be held harmless for any idiotic policy that that causes prices to “skyrocket” for Health Insurance, Health Care, Automobiles, Electricity Rates.

      Don’t be fooled by the NYT. It is just another case where they choose a politically attractive theory to cold hard empirical data and history.

      • Stephen: I don’t care what the NYT thinks; I think for myself

        When Presidents interfere in the marketplace, they can cause significant problems. This article was not about the insanities of the 1970s, but whether a President Gingrich could lower gasoline prices – presumably by removing regulations on US domestic petroleum production. Given that world production of oil is roughly 10X bigger than US production, there was little a President Gingrich could have done to change the future course of US gasoline prices. US production has nearly doubled since 2011, but President Obama isn’t responsible for the new technology and the earlier investments that made this increase possible. (Idiotic regulation of fracking might have prevented this increase, however.)

        You can see US domestic production, World Production and Price information at the links below. Can you convince yourself that changes in US domestic production have a STRONG CONSISTENT influence on oil prices? I can’t.

        http://www.indexmundi.com/energy/?country=us&product=oil&graph=production
        http://www.indexmundi.com/energy/?product=oil&graph=production
        http://www.macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart

        The report linked below from the World Bank attempts to dissect the causes of the crash in oil prices in 2014. Since the world economy was expanding in 2014, they think surprises in demand were less of a factor than surprises in supply. The biggest surprise in supply in 2014 occurred when OPEC decided not to cut back production to keep prices artificially high. IMO, however, the big picture was that artificially high prices (from OPEC) and new technology in the 2000’s spurred US domestic production just when slower than expected world economic growth was suppressing demand. However one looks at it, neither a President Obama nor a President Gingrich had much control over these economic forces – unless you think President Obama quietly threatened Saudi Arabia with consequences if they cut production.

        http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/339801451407117632/PRN01Mar2015OilPrices.pdf

  18. Just remember this. You can make your POVs smaller and drive them less to cut the cost of your fuel usage. But development of diesel Big trucks can only go so far. The Freightliner Cascadia that I drive has a Detroit DD15 engine governed to 68 mph. This model Freightliner has set the standard for mileage in the US with the combination of the engine and superior aerodynamics or OTR (Over the Road) trucking. It carries about 240 gallons of Ultra Low sulfur Diesel in it’s saddle tanks of which about 225 gallons is usable. I can haul up to 45,200 lb of freight in a newer 53′ dry van trailer or 42,500 lb. in a newer type refer trailer. With a light load of say 20,000 lb or less on relatively level ground I can get very close to 9 mpg. With a heavy load on roads with a lot of grade the mileage can drop to 6.2 mpg. Understand that I have a lead foot. In my job I can’t spare the horses much because the sooner I get back to the terminal the sooner I’m available to cover the next load that nobody wants to do, or some driver quit or got sick or had a family emergency and had to call off.

    Just about everything every one of you folks own and use that is not an antique took a ride on a big truck at one time or another. For most of you, all, or almost all, of what you eat also came to the market by big truck after being cultivated, planted, and harvested by other machines using a diesel engine. The gasoline your buying was carried to the station by a big truck and almost all of the parts in your vehicles rode on a big truck as did the processed materials from which they were fabricated and the raw materials mined to produce those materials.

    The list goes on and on and the simple fact is that the single largest operating expense for every trucking company is FUEL! And thus the prices of nearly every single thing you buy are effected by the cost of fuel.

    • Thanks for your trucking. And your post is revealing in quite another way.

      We have the climate wars, the war on coal, global warming, CO2 … but the administrations have known that oil was essential to the economy for transport of goods and for the military. Halt that and civilization crumbles and actual revolt (think no food).

      So, these selective battles reveal that the entire agenda is political. The new world order.

      • This administration has prosecuted it’s own war on trucking through oppressive non legislated regulation. While I totally agree with the regulations that have gotten a lot of junk equipment off our roads and gotten some of the worst drivers out of trucking, I totally disagree with the rest of it having do with hours of service and e-logs which is having the effect of cutting the hours a driver can go down the road and tipping the table against independents and smaller trucking companies. This at a time when the country is so short of drivers (estimates are around 300,000 nation wide) that there is a push to allow 18 year old military trained Class A CDL drivers go interstate. http://www.overdriveonline.com/fmcsa-looking-to-begin-interstate-pilot-program-for-under-21-military-trained-drivers/#

        Four years ago I bid on the salary driver position I am in now simply because it was already clear at that time that electronic logs were going to be forced upon us. (There were once only 3 of us and starting this week there are 6 of us at a terminal with over 250 trucks. Getting paid a salary to be on call 24 hours a day five days a week to go anywhere in the contiguous US and Canada and which is based on top pay rate at 3,000 mi per week just made sense to me because it was obvious that with the new regulations it would be very difficult to average 3,000 pay miles a week which is what I was doing when I drove for miles and picked the runs I wanted to do.

        Don’t get me wrong. Driving can be exhausting. The reality is that an average driver spends a lot of time doing work that has nothing to do with going down the road. But the solution is to nail the drivers that don’t have the judgment to know their limits and let the majority of the rest of us that have demonstrated that we have that judgement by our safety records go on our way and take care of business. It is simply stupid to set arbitrary standards applied to all drivers based on what non drivers judge a person can safely do in a day or week.

        As for thanking me for trucking? Appreciated but not needed. I’m doing something I like (most days) and making a pretty good living do so.

        I should mention that the industry is going through a transition. Large carriers that formally only hauled dry vans or only did limited runs with refrigerated trailers are all getting into refrigerated/temperature controlled business which of course has as it’s freight mostly food products. My interpretation of this fact is that during recession refer business is less effected than others. But I could be wrong.

    • “The list goes on and on and the simple fact is that the single largest operating expense for every trucking company is FUEL! And thus the prices of nearly every single thing you buy are effected by the cost of fuel.”

      That’s exactly right.

  19. Supply and demand = prices

    Always has in the long-run and always will. The two things which interrupt this are “government” and the fact that sometimes prices are sticky on the way up or the way down as consumers and suppliers take some time to adjust to the new reality of supply and demand.

    US weekly Oil stocks – peaked at 510 million barrels in April 2016 – the highest ever. They were actually running out of places to store it (and even tankers off-shore were being used). It is slowly coming down now.

    The big drop in the oil price started just before the beginning of this chart (Sept 2014 and before that July 2008 when every commodity on the planet when crazy high for no reason except for irrational exuberance or sticky prices again) but I thought it was more useful to show higher resolution over less time to show when the stocks finally started to drop.

    And then US weekly oil production showing how fracking technology has increased the supply in the US but also noting that it was slightly higher in the previous big oil shock (1986) when the Saudis made their first run at stopping US oil production. If you don’t know, 1986 was the last really big drop in oil prices so that producers stopped making money. I always thought the Saudis lost so much money in this last Stop-US-Production venture that they would never do it again (but they have now learned that lesson once again as they have once again completely lost their shirt).

    But US production is now falling finally.

    Prices will be going up now. But it is “sticky up” time.

  20. In New Zealand, I recall some eco-Progressive professorial pretender from University of Waikato (Hamilton) exhilaratingly pontificating that fuel in NZ would never drop below $2.00 a litre (50% of this price is a nauseating government tax). Prices rose further to $2.20 or more before eventually declining to well below $2, largely due to the steady rise of the NZ $ and decline in oil prices. Who’d have thunk that? Obviously not the pecksiffian “academic” whom I have most irritatingly never been able to identify.

  21. People in the State of Washington voted to increase fuel taxes because such had not gone up along with the cost of road maintenance and construction. Further, current autos get about 30 mpg and PU trucks — big sellers in WA — get a bit less. Such numbers are double those of many earlier autos. As miles traveled on State roads increased wear, auto designs improved efficiencies and reduced revenue growth below what what might have been. State taxes are much higher than the Federal tax that, I think, Congress critters have to do. I did not check to see if the POTUS can just will these to go up. [This week, our regular gas is $2.55.]

    With increased use of hybrids and EVs, a way will have to be implement to collect road-taxes from them. This too is likely to be State designed and State implemented. This is a discussion that is now underway. Tesla Model S ($60,000+) owners can afford the taxes but much lower priced EVs — many coming soon — will need to pay also. Likely there will not be a great amount of “free” charging coming either, nor continued use of HOV lanes and such things.

    Don’t look for big changes in a hurry. There are near 17 M vehicles sold in the US every year and most still use gasoline. They also have a long life.

    • Beware of politicians argueing for increased road taxes to finance the upkeep of the infra-structure.

      Here in the UK we pay an annual vehicle “excise” tax which depends on the size of your engine and is mostly between £35 and £200 per year. You haven’t driven a mile yet. Then there are fuel taxes to the tune of more than 80% of the pump price going to the exchequer, billions upon billions per year. Now comes the catch: the total money spent on upkeep of the infra structure is less than a quarter of what comes in as taxes. In other words: the fuel taxes are a milking cow to finance many other things. As the former PM Tony Blair once sheepishly replied to a question about this unbalance: but how would we otherwise pay for social security?

      So, some advice from this fed-up taxpayer. If one of your politicians talks about taxes to finance the upkeep (which of course it should) make sure that the revenue is ringfenced by law and thus used for that purpose only.

  22. Someone has to be the pedant. Richard Thayler couldn’t even get his spelling correct. Scottish “whisky” is spelt without the “e”. It is the Irish distillate that is spelt “whiskey”.

  23. Newt got lucky. None of the major oil companies, with all their expertise and insider knowledge have ever been any good at price projections, long term or short term.

    I was a steady contrarian in “peak oil” discussions back when they were the rage, and was confident that horizontal multi-stage fracking would provide a steady supply of gas, but I don’t know of anyone who had confidence it could unlock so much liquids production so fast.

  24. Ridicule is the best tool for Liberal Media types trying to get on Clinton’s good side :A side note

    An open letter to FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and All American Citizens.

    My fellow Americans, I live in America and I am an American citizen. Fox News has discovered it was Unanimous amongst the FBI & DOJ non-political investigative professionals that Hillary Clinton must lose her security clearance, and, a clear super-majority of the investigators determined that the evidence warranted a criminal indictment against Mrs. Clinton. If true, claims to the contrary by the politically appointed personnel from the President on down would constitute a clear deception designed to control the outcome of an American Election. This shows that many Democrats, at different levels in the government, have been working in concert to rig the outcome of the Presidential Election. There is no greater level of corruption possible for a nation! All Americans must stand united against corruption whomever is doing it.

    The only way to allow Americans to HONESTLY obtain the information needed to make an unbiased, properly informed and equal selection for President, as guaranteed by American law, is to have a 3rd party accounting of the findings by the FBI agents, analysts and DOJ lawyers. This way all the information is available and the process not corrupted by the Email Server Scandal, at the very least. If Fox’s findings are then verified, Pres. Obama and many, many Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton, would need to explain their claims that she is the most qualified candidate in history yet cannot pass the minimum requirements for the position. After all, every single person involved has maintained (LOUDLY) that there was NO POLITICAL INFLUENCE IN THEIR DECISION. Give the Citizens what we need to properly vote! For me, a Donald octopus Trump Trumps a Hillary felon Clinton selection for President of the United States every time. No contest. But for others, this is not true! Give the Voters what was promised, an unbiased election.

    DEMAND A 3rd PARTY ACCOUNTINGS OF THE FBI & DOJ PROFESSIONALS WHO INVESTIGATED THE EMAIL SERVER SCANDAL!

  25. Actually Newt was right, unleash free market system, which developed new technology in the form of fracking and deep offshore drilling along with more sophisticated seismic exploration lowering the risk of dry holes and enjoy the fruits. Bill Clinton can be credited with opening up portions of the Gulf with incentives in the form of lower royalties (tax) for high cost deep water drilling.
    I agree the peak oil discussions were recently a false rage and falsely justified massive incentives and mandates for ethanol which they clung to even in the light of significant production due to fracking and associated technology. Strange the media give no credit for the extensive application to the technology developments associated with increased new oil finds throughout the world applying this technology.
    Also it is a fact that job growth was primarily associated with fracking and other oil/gas production.
    Who predicted massive

Comments are closed.