Larry Kudlow
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S., recently told the United States Energy Association that any U.S. conflict with Iran would threaten the Strait of Hormuz and triple the barrel price of oil. Of course, such language could be an attempt to get President Bush to rule out the military option as Iran pushes to weaponize its uranium-enrichment program. But the administration will not rule anything out as it grapples with this belligerent power.

That said, I’d like to challenge the prince’s assessment of the potential direction of oil prices, and the idea that the Middle East necessarily holds all the cards.

The Energy Department just announced that crude oil supplies rose 1.4 million barrels to 347.1 million for the week ended June 16. Analysts had been expecting a drawdown, so this news caught them by surprise. More, crude oil supplies in the U.S. are now at their highest levels since May 1998, when oil was trading around $15 a barrel. Add in the fact that Canadian oil inventories are fully stocked, and the more imminent reality is of a sizable oil-price decrease -- not a huge increase.

Recently I interviewed four oil-tanker executives who control a combined 85 percent of the oil coming into the United States. They confirmed market rumors that the amount of oil being stored on large carriers on the high seas is abnormally high. One of the CEOs even predicted the possibility of $40 to $50 oil in the next 6 to 12 months. In another interview, Chevron CEO David O’Reilly suggested that gasoline and energy demands have flattened in the U.S., and may be showing signs of decline.

Prince Turki can threaten $200 oil all he wants, but we may instead be looking at a downward correction that will have oil prices dropping more than anyone imagines possible. Supplies are at their highest levels in eight years, while demand appears to be falling, or at least leveling off. Should a significant price correction be in the offing, stock markets and the economy will cheer.

The economic principles at work here are very simple: Markets work. Supply and demand works. Higher prices are gradually slowing consumption. At the same time, those high prices continue to stimulate outsized profits and investment returns. So capital is pouring into all the energy sectors, providing a strong foundation for new energy production. Chevron, for example, is reinvesting virtually all its profits in new oil-and-gas exploration and drilling. The drilling industry, meanwhile, has recovered from last year’s Hurricane Katrina shock and is once again producing near peak capacity.


Larry Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow is host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report,” which airs nightly from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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