NEW YORK -- (TheStreet) -- Oil's been on fire in the last three days, gaining more than $14 a barrel and nearly $30 in the last three months. That equates to a quick extra 75 cents a gallon at the pumps, folks, if you're counting -- and I know that you are.
But as I continue to point out in my columns and explain in detail in my upcoming book,
due out from John Wiley and Sons in April, you're just being taken for a roller-coaster ride. There has not been one significant supply shutdown nor has there been any overwhelming increase of demand for finished gasoline or heating oil in that time to explain these monster moves.
Instead, there have only been threats of supply disruptions from weather and Middle East unrest -- and bets being placed on those possibilities, fueled to insane levels of frenzy by commodity-trading advisers, index fund managers, dedicated hedge funds and oil swaps dealers.
As I explain in my book, access to what was once a very tiny and closed oil market is now available to everyone -- not just the actual producers and users of physical oil, nor even to the many professional energy traders. Instantaneous access to the price of the crude barrel is now available at the click of a mouse to anyone with an Internet connection through indices, ETFs, ETNs and individual futures accounts and the world is
Add to this avalanche of money from retail and institutional investors the further avalanche of professional hedge fund and proprietary investment bank swaps trading, taking advantage of the panicked buying from the investing public hyped by a 24-hour frenzied media and you've got it -- a perfect storm of trading without a seller in sight, driving up prices almost 15% in a matter of days.
The reality is that not one barrel of real oil has been removed from the global supply picture in the last several weeks until today, when it was reported that perhaps a half million barrels of daily supply were
, a shortfall that Saudi Arabia could easily and will easily cover, if it becomes necessary.
Even more, the insane wagering on crude prices driving Brent crude up almost $10 in the last two days alone is about the possibility of a protest contagion spreading to Saudi Arabia, where 10% of global oil supply is housed and where the leadership to OPEC is maintained.
But oil being priced on the futures market today must be delivered within the next 20 days. Someone explain to me how that (in my mind, tiny) risk of a real supply shortage at least several months away needs to be represented in $115 prices for crude being delivered and used today?
It can't. It is instead the relentless drive of capital through an oil market that was never intended nor outfitted to receive it -- what I've been calling "oil's endless bid."
And those brand new players enticed to bet on oil prices going higher are not about to abandon their bets anytime soon. Even after things settle in the Middle East, I expect that only a small proportion of these new players will similarly sell out of their new oil positions. No, they'll want to be a part of the new oil trade and will stay "long oil" whether they have done that through indexes, ETFs or the many commodity funds now available. And that means that oil's new found risk premium isn't coming out of the market so fast.
It makes stocks that reflect oil's rising price, most notably the big integrated oil stocks, still great investments to hold. I've consistently recommended
, one of the few stocks that have rallied in the face of general market weakness in the past few days. But
are worthy alternatives. Oil service stocks, which recently sold off a bit, represent a buying opportunity, as they will massively benefit from $100-plus per barrel prices. I am partial to
As for the consumer, it means higher prices: Not just for gasoline and heating oil, but for everything that relies upon energy to be produced -- foods, drugs, metals like aluminum -- well, nearly everything.
When we last saw an energy market streaking out of control like this in 2008, we needed the threat of a global financial meltdown to burst oil's bubble.
What will it take this time around?
At the time of publication, the author was long Exxon Mobil, Baker Hughes and Weatherford
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.