West Texas Intermediary Futures have Misled the Real Price of Oil.

Feb. 22, 2011 9:44 AM ET
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Long-Term Horizon, Portfolio Strategy, Macro

Contributor Since 2010

Principal of Calyx Capital Advisors, llc, a boutique financial advisory serving a limited group of private clients with Family Office services including investment management, trust management, family financial management and support of private company investments. Our philosophy and processes are refreshingly and distinctly different than the mainstream financial institutions.
Oil prices have been going up for weeks and higher gas prices are right around the corner.  But you wouldn't have known that from watching the WTI.
If you track oil prices from the newspaper, TV or financial websites, then you know that oil peaked north of $92 last month and has drifted down to a low just above $82 before jumping up to above $92 today. Thus, oil appears to be relatively benign from an inflation standpoint. 
These news sources use the Nymex West Texas Intermediary crude (WTI) futures as a measure of oil prices.   
If, on the other hand, you had been watching Brent Sea Crude prices, which are normally a dollar or so below WTI, then you would have seen them steadily rise over the past month from the mid $80’s to close at $102.52 yesterday. 
A $10 spread between the WTI and Brent plus the loss of the WTI premium is quite a divergence. So, what gives? Essentially, the WTI has been misleading from the perspective of global oil prices. 
The story seems to be that at Cushing, Oklahoma, which is the settlement point for WTI futures, there is a minor glut of oil.  Due to the pipeline configurations, this oil can only be used economically by local refiners, who are operating at normal levels of production. The oil at Cushing is not available to the U.S. east coast, west coast or even gulf coast refineries because the pipelines associated with Cushing are pumping oil to Cushing, not away from it.  So the WTI is being affected by local conditions that have nothing to do with the global oil markets.
Meanwhile, buyers of oil across the globe are worried about future supply disruptions that may develop from the Middle East civil unrest. Brent crude prices reflect this concern with an increase of over $10 in the last month and a 40% total increase since last summer.   Price increases are also reflected in Gulf coast oil prices as well as in gasoline futures prices. 
Be advised to watch Brent prices as well as WTI to gauge the real impact of current events on Oil.

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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
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