“We aren’t addicted to oil, but our cars are.”
– James Woolsey
“The greatest asset, even in this country, is not oil and gas. It’s integrity.”
– George Foreman
If energy powers the world, then whoever owns that energy must have power over the world. That’s certainly been the case for the last century or two. Ownership of our primary energy source, crude oil, is what made billionaires of John D. Rockefeller, H.L. Hunt, and assorted Middle Eastern kings, emirs, and sheikhs.
Oil in the ground is wealth only on paper – you may own that oil, but it earns you nothing until you recover and sell it. Yet paper wealth is still wealth. It goes on your balance sheet as an asset that you can sell. You can use it as collateral to borrow cash and buy other assets.
The ongoing oil price collapse is having a severely negative impact on the wealth of those who own oil reserves. The numbers, as you will see below, are almost incomprehensibly big. They are so big, in fact, that many analysts have simply tuned out. The attitude seems to be, “These numbers blow up my models, so I will ignore them.”
Today we’ll stop dancing around the truth and call the oil collapse what it is: global wealth destruction of epic proportions.
Simple Math, Hard Answers
In mid-2014, crude oil prices were about $100, depending on which grade you wanted to buy. Now prices hover near $30 – roughly a 70% decline in 18 months. That’s well-known, but we usually discuss the price collapse in terms of particular countries or companies: we don’t look at the bigger picture.
Last week someone showed me this from Twitter. I almost fell out of my chair.
Stop for a minute. Let that sink in. The total value of all the world’s oil reserves is over $100 trillion less than it was just a year and a half ago.