Oil prices could rally to $100 a barrel if Middle East tensions 'really kick off,' analyst says

Oil prices could soon skyrocket to more than $100 a barrel amid escalating tensions in the Middle East, one oil analyst told CNBC Friday.

Crude futures surged to highs not seen since December 2014 earlier in the week, underpinned by greater geopolitical uncertainty in Syria and elevated concerns over the prospect of imminent military action by Western powers.

"I don't think its unfeasible to see triple-digit oil prices at some point this year if things really kick off in the Middle East," Anish Kapadia, founder and managing director of Akap Energy, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Friday.

He added market participants had been "laughed out the room" when they projected crude futures to reach either $60 or $70 a barrel six months ago. But heightened tensions in the Middle East had since brought about the prospect of oil prices soaring to more than $100 a barrel later this year, he added.

Geopolitical premium 'alive and well'

Both benchmarks were on track to post their biggest weekly gain in more than eight months on Friday, shortly after President Donald Trump's comments about potential missile strikes and reports of dwindling global oil stocks.

Brent crude was trading at $72.26 during lunchtime deals on Friday, up around 0.3 percent, while WTI traded at $67.35, approximately 0.4 percent higher. Both benchmarks have gained about $5 since the start of the week.

An uptick in oil prices followed incendiary comments from Trump on Wednesday. The U.S. president tweeted missiles "will be coming," in response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria over the weekend. He has since sought to dial back such explosive rhetoric, raising the prospect that an attack on Syria may not be as imminent as it first appeared.

Nonetheless, world leaders continued to mull over military action in the war-torn country on Friday.

"Trump's will-he-or-won't-he antics are here to stay and will, therefore, ensure that the geopolitical risk premium remains alive and well," Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note Friday.

He added oil prices were likely to continue to extend their recent gains in the near term.

However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Friday it "remained to be seen" whether recently elevated oil prices could be sustained.

In the Paris-based organization's latest monthly report, the group left its forecast for oil demand unchanged at 99.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018. The IEA's outlook for supply also remained the same, as it projected non-OPEC growth to reach 1.8 million bpd this year.

Why the oil era might not be over yet

 

Economists like to say the best cure for high prices is, high prices. In the case of oil in recent years, the saying often rings true.

Years of elevated oil prices leading up to 2014, when Brent crude futures traded above $100 a barrel, helped drive efficiency in the industry and other energy sectors, but ultimately led to a supply glut and lower prices.

"That era of high-price oil that we had drove innovations all over the place especially in terms of shale but it also enabled oil operators to make much bigger risks," said John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital.

Now, oil prices are rising again amid rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. The recent spike and volatility in prices could serve as a reminder of the benefits of cheaper alternative energy sources. But even as investment in renewables expands, many experts agree the oil era still has room to run.

"I think oil's got another four or five decades before we see anything," said John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, a nonprofit. "Change is coming, but it's going to take time."

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects oil demand to continue to grow until 2040, fueled by emerging markets like India and industries like trucking, petrochemicals, aviation and shipping. But the IEA says renewables and natural gas are capturing an increasing share of global energy demand.

One reason? China. The world's largest polluter is now leading the way in the push for clean power.

"You have to watch China because the question is how much will they leapfrog," said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at OPIS, a company that provides oil price information.

The IEA expects one out of every four vehicles on the road in China will be electric by 2040. It projects the global electric car fleet will reach 280 million by that time, up from just around 2 million today. A big shift toward electric vehicles could have major implications for oil, which fuels more than half of the world's transportation.

"Electric vehicles will compete and probably beat internal combustion on a cost basis pretty soon, which will give consumers a choice," Eichberger said.

But he warned that even as electric vehicle sales increase, it will take decades to build the infrastructure for them to overtake gasoline cars. Analysts point to concerns over battery storage and costs. Unless oil prices continue to stay elevated, consumers might not yet be tempted to make the switch.

"You get so much bang for your buck with gasoline," OPIS' Kloza said.

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