Oil price fall could support the US$

WTI, $ sept09.jpgPity your poor CFO. As well as keeping cashflow positive, they are also coping with major US$ volatility. In July 2008 it was trading at $0.63: €1, but then rose 43% to $.80: €1, before declining 28% to $0.68: €1 today.
The catalyst for this volatility seems to be oil price movements. As the chart shows from a new report by the James A Baker III Institute (kindly forwarded by my fellow-blogger John Richardson), there has been an 82% inverse correlation between the US$ exchange rate index and changes in crude oil prices since 2001.
The reason is that tighter crude oil supply/demand balances have led to higher oil prices. As a result, US oil imports cost $331bn in 2008, and were 47% of the US trade deficit, versus just 19% in 2002. So last year’s collapse from $147/bbl in July to December’s $34/bbl was good news for the US$. But this year’s recovery to $70/bbl has caused a further US$ fall.
Adding to the CFO’s problem is that 2009’s price movements have been purely speculative, as traders ‘look through to economic recovery”. OECD crude oil inventories have actually risen steadily, from 52 days in June 2008 to 57 days by December, and then to 62 days by July 2009. Equally, today’s US distillate stocks are the highest since 1983, whilst European heating oil stocks are at an all-time record.
Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. But with refining margins now only $3.42/bbl, a fall in crude prices back towards $40/bbl would not be too surprising. CFO’s probably need to consider whether to hedge against this possibility, and the problems it could cause – not only with year-end inventory, but also via a “surprise rally” in the US$ as well.

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