Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

反常态的油价

发自伦敦——撰写关于油价的文章向来都是有风险的。在2015年1月份,我提出油价不会继续下跌,甚至预测“年末收盘价将比年初更高。”最后证明是我错了;但我估计自己很快会迎来一次正确的预测。

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我最近在声势浩大的阿布扎比石油展览会上发表了演讲,这可是一场石油市场达沃斯论坛式的盛会。在那里我听到了一些石油行业高管们讨论的风声,他们一致同意在明年这个时候原油价格仍然会像今天这样维持在每桶60美元左右。

当时我正要接受CNBC财经有线电视台记者史蒂夫·塞齐维克(Steve Sedgwick)的采访,我对他说:“那将是第一次。石油价格在一年之内几乎没有变化?”不出意料,塞齐维克在一开始采访时就把我的看法告知了观众,并询问我为什么不同意其他人的观点。

在对此做出解释之前,请让我列明几个常规注意事项。预测油价很显然是个令人忐忑的壮举;事实上预测货币市场可比这个要容易得多。当我在1970年代末80年代初读完石油市场博士学位时就已经得出结论:试图猜测油价就是在浪费时间。后来去了高盛,每当看到自己研究小组的商品分析师疲于应付对油价来说稀松平常的混乱走势时,我都很想发笑。

塞齐维克在采访我时提出了一个有趣的观点:由于近年来许多资产价格的波动性急剧下降,石油和其他商品价格的走势趋稳可能只是时间问题。当然这个情况很可能发生。原则上他是对的。

但我认为货币,债券和股票市场波动性的下降在很大程度上反映了世界许多地区的低通胀率以及近年来各大央行缺乏重大货币政策调整的事实。但我不确定这些因素是否同样适用于石油,特别是在这个能源市场正处于供需关系剧变的时刻。

在需求侧,市场评论家们终于猛然意识到某些在2017年大部分时间已经表现得极为明朗的形势:世界经济增长势头强劲,目前可能正在以4%或更高的速度增长。除印度和英国外,全球前十大经济体中有8个都在扩张。即便许多国家都在试图摆脱对石油的依赖,但这种转变也不会在一夜之间发生。因此石油市场正在调整以迎接更强劲的需求。

在供给侧,全球最重要的石油边际供应国沙特突然吸引了许多充满疑虑的目光。沙特政府在国内和外交政策上都实施了根本性的变革,但其做出这一系列举动的原因却尚不明确。不出所料,市场参与者们一时间都觉得有必要给油价上点保险。

在阿布扎比石油展览会的两场演讲中,我分享了布伦特原油现货价格和五年远期价格的走势。在缺乏与基本面更为相关的手段来思考石油均衡价格的情况下,我一直默认看五年远期价格。正如我在2015年1月所解释的那样,布伦特原油现货价格较少受到投机性波动的影响,因此也是一个更为纯粹地反映基本商业供求因素的近似指标。

我准备的图表是在11月初最新一轮石油价格上涨之前做出的,显示五年远期油价在经历一段时间的稳定之后回升。随着现货价格已经超过五年远期价格,人们可以得出趋势正在发生变化的结论。对我而言还不太确定;但如果真的发生了,也是意料之中。

让我们回到塞齐维克的问题。虽然2018年11月的油价可能会在每桶60美元左右,但我的猜测是,在此期间油价会涨到每桶80美元左右。

塞齐维克还问石油企业如何才能使自身投资和经营决策不受周期性因素的影响。它们是否有可能在价格上涨时保持镇定,而在长时间价格低迷的情况下避免过度消沉?

这是一个棘手的问题。我的答案是,石油企业需要完成那个由我开启但从未完成的商品分析任务。它们必须找到一个可靠的方法来估算石油的潜在均衡价格。一旦石油价格超过这个均衡的两个标准差,就可以无视各同僚,分析师和业内人士那些跟风式的所谓建议了。

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