Chart of the Day, 11 February 2015: Is Supply What Done It to Oil (Says Goldman)

“Is supply what done it,” says Goldman Sachs (as reported by Bloomberg; click chart for larger image).

The big take-away: “[T]he decline in oil has been driven by an oversupplied global oil market,” wrote Goldman economist Sven Jari Stehn. As a result, “the new equilibrium price of oil will likely be much lower than over the past decade.”

Decomposition of Oil Price Demand jpeg

Looks authoritative? And, on top of the pretty chart, Bloomberg tells us that Goldman is using a “vector autoregression with sign restrictions”.

Yeah, right. Solid statistical (and thus econometric) forecasts need to be founded on known and stable relationships–we have neither (we rarely do in macro). Supposedly, Goldman knows that if demand is X (holding supply stable), price will likely be Y. Or, if supply is W (holding demand stable), price will likely be Z. And then a dynamic multi-factor model can be created to bring everything together.

But for oil, we neither have a good idea of what the underlying relationships look like nor, more importantly, do we understand how they evolve through time. As proof of my scepticism, recall that Goldman was predicting high oil prices just over a year ago (spot the oil forecast; source: Business Insider; click for larger image):

Goldman Sachs Macro Forecasts jpeg

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Goldman’s supply and demand decomposition does give us a cloudy window into past price movements, but it certainly won’t give us a reliable vision of the future. In reality, the prognostications of market strategists are a form of economic story telling. And the best story tellers get paid the most. In certain aspects, humanity has not come that far from 10,000 years ago.

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