Time was, all it took to get oil prices jumping was someone passing gas too loudly near a Nigerian refinery. Today Iran is test-firing missiles capable of hitting targets throughout the Middle East, and the oil market couldn't care less.
It seems there's nothing like an oil glut to keep traders from piling on -- even as a geopolitical crisis with Iran, the world's fourth-biggest oil producer, looms.
The oil market, of course, has bigger worries on its hands. The global economic slowdown means there's too much idle refining capacity and too much black gold to go around, says Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, in Winchester, Massachusetts.
"It used to be that if Iran stopped exports, that would be a disaster," Lynch says. "But now we've got a huge amount of capacity and oil in inventory, so we could replace Iran's output fairly easily."
Besides, the last thing oil traders need is another nasty shock on supply data. The American Petroleum Supply Institute, a trade group, reports stockpiles on Tuesday, while the Department of Energy reports stockpiles Wednesday -- and the market fears another upside surprise in the figures. Last week the longs got burned after U.S. oil inventories unexpectedly rose, causing crude prices to plunge 8 percent.
True, the oil market might get nervous if the global community were to impose sanctions on Iran (for the missile tests and its nuclear program), but we're not there yet. And lest we forget, current prices are being held up more by a falling dollar and the flight to commodities than by any economic fundamentals.
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