Oil prices: The role of refinery utilization, futures markets and non-linearities
We test the hypothesis that real oil prices are determined in part by refinery capacity, non-linearities in supply conditions, and/or expectations and that observed changes in these variables can account for the rise in prices between 2004 and 2006. Results indicate that the refining sector plays an important role in the recent price increase, but not in the way described by many analysts. The relationship is negative such that higher refinery utilization rates reduce crude oil prices. This effect is associated with shifts in the production of heavy and light grades of crude oil and price spreads between them. Non-linear relationships between OPEC capacity and oil prices as well as conditions on the futures markets also account for changes in real oil prices. Together, these factors allow the model to generate a one-step ahead out-of-sample forecast that performs as well as forecasts implied by far-month contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange and is able to account for much of the $27 rise in crude oil prices between 2004 and 2006.
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