The Price of Oil in 2015

Oil prices may not be about to start rising again, but, as 2014 comes to a close, forces that will eventually halt their decline are beginning to appear. Though prices may continue to drop in the short term, unlike in the past four years, they are likely to be higher at the end of 2015 than they were at the beginning.

LONDON – In late 1979, I began work on my PhD thesis, an empirical investigation of the OPEC surplus and its disposal. It was the end of a decade in which oil prices had undergone two dramatic increases, and most of the various geniuses of the day were confidently predicting that they would continue to soar, from under $40 per barrel – a historic high at that time – to above $100. By the time I finished my research in 1982, the price of oil had begun what would become a 20-year plunge. It would not hit $100 per barrel until January 2008.

I used to joke that the most important thing I learned from my research was never to attempt to forecast the price of oil. As 2014 comes to a close, the price of oil has just crossed the $100 threshold again – this time headed down. One of the big questions for 2015 is whether the decline will continue. Despite my earlier cynicism, I think I know the answer.

Over the past 33 years, I have had plenty of opportunity to study both oil prices and foreign exchange rates, including overseeing a research department of talented people trying to predict their movements. The experience has left me with a good deal of skepticism – not to mention bruises. But I do believe that it is possible to make a broad prediction as to where oil prices are headed.

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