The higher end of price estimates barring major geopolitical events factor in a number of variables. Oil price bulls expect continued robust China, India and emerging market demand. Economic stimulus measures in China, the world's largest consumer of energy, should also buoy prices. There will also be wider availability of speculative tools in the oil market. Finally, the growing difficulties and costs associated with searching for additional sources of oil will prop up prices. In addition, expanding rail infrastructure to meet the demands of increasing oil supply from Canada and the Bakken fields in North Dakota, and the agreement between oil pipeline operators Enbridge ( ENB) and Enterprise Products Partners ( EPD) to open a crucial U.S. oil artery by mid-2012, will help relieve any existing U.S. supply bottlenecks and allow WTI to the opportunity to soar back to levels matching that of global market prices. Gal Luft, executive director at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security adds that Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) constituents will likely want to drive up oil prices this year in order to secure the funds they need to keep up with financial commitments made to social programs aimed at keeping populations in the member countries in check. Leaders will work hard to prevent another wave of social discontentment that helped fuel last year's wave of Arab Spring revolutions. "They have to figure out how to come up with the money and the only way to do it is to drive up oil prices via OPEC's mechanism," Luft explained. Raymond James analyst Stacey Hudson says investors with a bullish view on global oil prices this year might want to pay closer attention to international names such Hess ( HES), a more volatile stock among the majors, and Chevron ( CVX). Argus Research analyst Phil Weiss also likes services company Halliburton ( HAL) as it would greatly benefit from the larger spending capacity of oil operator customers gaining from higher oil prices. Smaller exploration and production companies leveraged to oil prices such as SandRidge ( SD), Whiting Petroleum ( WLL), Occidental Petroleum ( OXY ), Suncor Energy ( SU ), Canadian Natural Resource ( CNQ) and Cenovus Energy ( CVE) are other stocks oil bulls should watch, says Morningstar analyst Allen Good. But oil stocks with lower volatility or higher dividends would make more sense for investors that are bearish about oil prices and want to take a more conservative approach to investing in the sector. The large integrated company Exxon Mobil ( XOM) would fit the bill in this case, according to Hudson and Weiss. Many analysts also continue to predict oil prices based on their 97% correlation to the S&P 500, which George Young, co-portfolio manager of the 5-star Villere Balanced Fund believes will end 2012 at 1360. Based on this assumption, TAC Energy trader Mark Anderle believes that the WTI may return to $113 to $114 by the end of the year, which is where it was last spring, when the S&P was also trading at around the 1360 level. We've heard what the experts think, now we'd like to hear your predictions. Please take out poll and see where other readers think oil prices will end 2012.
-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.