The Oil Price Roller Coaster

Last week the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil, the primary U.S. benchmark, fell to a 17-month low. The price, $45.88/bbl, marks a stunning fall from a price that closed at $76.40/bbl on October 3rd.

So, what has caused this roller coaster ride, and where are prices headed as we head into 2019?

Let’s first review how to we got to sub-$50 oil as we near the end of 2018. That’s important, because I think it strongly influences what is likely to happen in 2019.

Why Oil Prices Rose in 2018

In my 2018 predictions, which I will grade in a couple of weeks, I projected that oil prices would reach $70/bbl in 2018. The price of WTI, the U.S. benchmark, rose to that level in May and remained there for most of the summer.

There were several reasons I expected oil prices to rise. The threat of sanctions on Iran, global demand that continues to rise (despite increasing predictions of the demise of demand growth), and the deteriorating situation in Venezuela were just three of the reasons I predicted higher oil prices.

But if you had asked me in mid-summer what I expected for the rest of 2018, I would not have anticipated an oil price collapse. I largely attribute this decline to an unexpected variable in the oil markets that I call “The Trump Effect.”