Crude Oil 2013 Outlook
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November 6th brought the U.S. election and a glimpse into the effect that Washington will have on the energy markets. It may offer a negative impact as opposed to China which picked new leadership on November 8th, and Europe which worked out a framework for common banking regulation on December 13th. The U.S. should be bogged down with headwinds caused by continued slow-growth conditions, quantitative ease, uncertainty about taxes, the debt ceiling, and ongoing Washington partisanship. Economic growth is expected to improve slightly from 2012's 2.1% average. The fiscal cliff negotiations and the lack of progress in them in late-2012 showed that lawmakers are still unable to reach across the aisle. Corporate spending decisions are being delayed due to uncertainty about tax rates, and could be duplicated in late-February when the debt ceiling will need to be raised. The last battle in July-August 2011 resulted in S&P cutting the U.S.'s AAA credit rating and oil prices falling 25% in just a few weeks.
The composition of the Fed may become more dovish, as the hawkish loyal dissenter Jeffrey Lacker won't hold a vote. Fed Presidents Evans and Rosengren will vote this year and are both considered doves. Both argued for the 6.5% unemployment threshold adopted by the Fed at its December 12th meeting. KC's George will replace the hawkish President Hoenig, but she's been less critical of easy Fed policy than Hoenig has. President Bullard could be hawkish too, but he did not dissent at any time during his previous votes in 2010. A dovish Fed hasn't necessarily been good for oil prices like it has for markets like gold and equities (chart below). Oil may focus more on the Fed's adverse economic outlooks such as promises to keep rates low through 2015 than where easy money will be invested.
Europe is improving, with leaders there showing commitment to debt problems in Greece and Spain. Their resolve is unlikely to waiver, and the euro now appears likely to make it through this crisis without breaking up. China is a bright spot as well, and is showing improvement from a slowdown in FH '12. On May 24th, it said that banks would not meet their 2012 lending goals due to the slow economy.
Manufacturing PMI data reached a bottom in November 2011, but stagnated until a second bottom made in August 2012. Several injections of cash were made into the economy over the summer, and a $150B infrastructure project was announced on September 7th. The official measure of PMI has increased 1.4 points since its August low, while the HSBC measure has gained 3.3 points. Oil demand correlates to the HSBC measure as seen in 2009 when demand recovered as manufacturing activity bounced back (chart).