Illustrating the Bullish Case for Oil

Those of you who follow the oil markets know that a core bullish argument for rising oil prices over the long term is the growth in demand from overseas, most notably China and India. Those two countries alone represent 36% of the world population, so if their demand rises steadily, the logic goes, lower oil prices are a tough accomplishment.

On Monday a very telling statistic mentioned on CNBC caught my eye. I did not catch the source of the data, so we will have to assume it is correct, but take a look at this:

Barrels of Oil Consumed Per Person, Per Year:

United States: (25) Japan: (14) China: (2) India: (1)

Barring huge oil discoveries in coming decades (highly unlikely) or a dramatic shift to alternative fuels (more likely, but by no means assured), imagine where oil would trade if China and India reach 5-10 barrels of oil consumption per person annually.

As for a more short term view, I have been taking some profits in oil-producing stocks lately. The sudden move to the high 130’s per barrel makes me think the risk-reward trade-off is more balanced now. The next $20 move could be in either direction pretty easily (up if we have a bad hurricane season, or down if it is mild and we get a common correction) and the recent leg higher looks a little extended to me (see the chart of the U.S. Oil Fund ETF (USO) below).

I am not getting into the short term energy price prediction game, but I think taking some profits is a good idea after such a big move, as that matches my investing discipline. Long term, it is pretty hard to justify selling large blocks of energy stocks given that we can look at numbers such as those above and see that without dramatic change, the oil bull market remains intact.

Full Disclosure: No position in USO at the time of writing