Infamous Oil Forecasts that Failed & What Makes a More Solid Forecast
Even before Colonel Edwin Drake confirmed a way to drill for crude oil in 1859, pundits were already active in predicting the future of oil. Some called it "Drake's Folly" and forecast that drilling was not the way to reach oh well.
Skeptics called America's first drilled oil well "Drake's Folly" and insisted that drilling was no way to reach . . . Oh well.
But oil prices are what draw the primary predictions nowadays, even though $100 per barrel oil is really nothing new. During the Civil War, for instance, the price of oil soared to about $115 per barrel when adjusted for inflation in 2010 dollars. In fact, until an extended period after World War II through about 1970, oil prices were anything but stable and were often above levels seen in the 1980s and 1990's even without inflation taken into account.
In real terms, or adjusted for inflation, oil prices hit the equivalent of $100 per barrel or more in 1861 and again in 1980.
This underscores how poorly oil prices tracked inflation in modern history and the importance of technology in keeping pace with supply, regardless of price. In fact, according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE,) during the extended periods of low prices after the price crash of 1986, a number of technological advances occurred that lowered finding and lifting costs. These included the polycrystalline carbon drill bit and the expanded use of horizontal drilling.
In terms of price predictions, one of the biggest errors occurred only a few years ago, when forecasters during the summer of 2008 were predicting that oil prices would remain at levels of $150 or higher for the foreseeable future. Then came the global financial meltdown and took oil prices along with it, with an oil price plunge to the $30's by the following winter ooops!
A similar prediction occurred during the 1980's. Following the supply panics of the late 1970's, many were predicting that oil would reach $100 per barrel in nominal, or pre-inflation terms, by or before mid-decade. However, no such thing happened. Consumers, in part, had responded by purchasing much smaller cars than in the past and prices ultimately cratered by mid-decade, into the single digits for some crude grades.
"Beware all forecasts that do not have a strong basis in quantifiable supply/demand trends.
The problem with these particular forecasts was that some were predicated on wishful thinking, primarily by traders, not sound market fundamentals. Beware all forecasts that do not have a strong basis in quantifiable supply/demand trends. Just because renewed tensions have erupted in the Middle East, for instance, does not mean that oil prices are destined to fly up. Some of what is touted as "forecasts" in news bulletins is really the hype of traders hoping to make headlines that will push prices up on the commodity futures markets. Such hype may work briefly, but invariably, when there's nothing backing a prediction, prices will drop back in short order.
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