How Did Oil Prices Drop to Negative Numbers? with Dan Eberhart, Ep # 140

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By Benjamin Brandt CFP®, RICP® and Benjamin Brandt CFP®. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Have you been listening to what has been going on in the commodities markets lately? People around the world were shocked when oil prices went negative in the month of May. I didn’t even know that this could happen and I’m a financial professional! This interesting turn of events led me to seek the expertise of someone more knowledgable in the oil commodities sector. This is why I’ve asked oil expert, Dan Eberhart, to come on the show today and explain how the price of oil could drop into negative numbers. We’ll also talk about the importance of diversification and not only in your portfolio.

Outline of This Episode
  • [2:02] What the heck happened to oil prices in May?
  • [4:18] Should we start thinking of the city we may end up in?
  • [6:35] Should we avoid the Middle East in our international investments?
  • [9:32] What are the long term implications on oil?
  • [11:58] If we have the capital is it a good idea to invest in oil right now?
  • [13:15] Is the oil industry a viable industry for the future?
How did oil prices drop into negative numbers in May?

The price of oil is actually based on a futures contract. That contract is set for delivery at a certain date and these contracts roll over each month. Oil is traded by commodities brokers who don’t actually take possession of the product. Most people who want to trade in oil don’t actually want to take over the physical delivery of this commodity. What happened in May is that when it was time for the traders to exit and hand over the delivery of the product no one wanted to take it due to the lack of available storage facilities. This caused a panic in the market and sent the price into negative numbers. Listen in to find out if this could happen again.

Should we start thinking about the city we may end up in?

We all know about the importance of diversification in our portfolios, but have you ever thought about the economical drivers of the town that you live in or want to live in during retirement. If that place’s sole economy lies in one market you may be taking on extra risk. Before purchasing a home in retirement think about what kind of economy drives the place. North Dakota and Texas have strong ties to oil. Wyoming and Pennsylvania are large producers of natural gas. And Silicon Valley and the tech economy drive much of California. If you do live in one of these places it is a good idea to pay even more attention to the diversification of your portfolio so it is not tied to one of these sectors.

Should we avoid master limited partnerships?

Retirees are often looking to have some income-producing investments in their portfolios. Until recently, master limited partnerships (MLPs) seemed like a great way to provide income and diversification. There were some MLPs that were paying between 7-9% annual yield on investments. Since these have been more volatile should we steer away from MLPs in the future? Dan recommends approaching these with caution. They will be less volatile than oil and gas stocks but more volatile than they have been in the past.

What are the long-term implications for the oil industry?

With more people working from home, the increasing popularity of electric cars, and the green movement it seems like the future of the oil industry could be bleak. Dan mentions that it’s not practical to flip a switch to change our energy from oil and gas to renewables. He is confident that the free market will help solve this puzzle. As those in the sector already know, the oil and gas industry has always followed a boom and bust cycle. The demand for oil is down right now but it will begin to increase over the next 18-24 months.

Has the wild swing in oil changed your diversification strategy?

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