Have oil prices soared as high as they can go, at least for the next few months?
There seems to be a growing sentiment that top oil prices have been reached, as oil prices have stalled in January, but some industry observers do see oil stepping into a higher gear.
Here's the scenario.
"Oil prices faltered at the start of the second week of the year, as fears set in about a rapid rebound in U.S. shale production," says energy expert Nick Cunningham in a new post on OilPrice.com this week. "For the better part of two months, optimism surrounding the OPEC deal has buoyed oil prices, but bullish sentiment from speculators are showing early signs of abating, raising the possibility that the oil rally is running out of steam."
Cunningham points to a stronger count on U.S. oil rigs over the past ten weeks, amounting to "200 fresh rigs looking for oil." Continued uncertainty over the recent agreement among OPEC nations to curb supply is also holding prices back, he notes.
Oil futures contracts reflect those potential supply conditions, as February and March Globex crude oil futures are down to $52.24 and $53.09, in mid-Wednesday trading.
Of course, in general, oil industry trackers have been calling for an oil price cap at around $60 per barrel in recent weeks, mostly due to positive sentiment over the OPEC supply limits.
"I think prices have room to run to about the $60 area," says Lila Manassa Murphy, portfolio manager at Federated Investors in Dallas. Murphy, who's headed to Abu Dhabi to meet the Saudi oil minister this week, notes that OPEC (along with a pledge from several non-OPEC countries) has put in an effective floor at the $50 level and the Saudi cartel, in particular, remains committed to doing whatever is necessary to support oil prices at that level, including the possibility of further cuts to buoy prices.