Billionaire energy investor T. Boone Pickens may have missed out on last year's commodity boom, but the long-time bull told Reuters he sees further gains in store for oil prices that are now pushing $100 a barrel.
In a market that he said increasingly resembles 2008, crude oil should hit $120 this year, a rally that could help revive the hedge fund he runs after a 15 percent loss in 2010.
He said the world's spare capacity was shrinking to worrying levels that would give OPEC little ability to quickly meet demand, meaning that prices would have to climb high enough to stop people using more oil.
"You've got a similar situation to 2008, with extra supplies available in this market possibly less than 1 million barrels (per day) now," Pickens, 82, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Friday.
He did not expand on his statement that global spare capacity was possibly as low as 1 million barrels, a pittance in a world that consumes more than 88 million bpd, but acknowledged "many people think it's more like 4 million" bpd.
"You're going to see $100 this quarter and it's going to go even higher, to $120 or more this year," he said. "You need to get to at least $120 to see prices start to kill demand."
That's a more bullish view than most, with analysts forecasting an average of $90.40 a barrel for U.S. crude this year, according to a Reuters poll this week.
Brent crude in London hit a 28-month high of $99.74 a barrel on Friday as unrest in Egypt sparked fears that instability could spread in the Middle East. U.S. crude rallied more than 4 percent to settle at $89.34 a barrel.
Pickens is a veteran of numerous aggressive takeover deals in the U.S. oil industry in the 1980s, and now chairs Dallas-based hedge fund BP Capital Management, which has separate funds for equities and commodity bets.
BP Capital Management's equity focused fund returned 2 percent in 2010 while the commodity fund shed 15 percent, Pickens said. That loss was little surprise given his long-held bullish view on natural gas, last year's worst-performing commodity. He declined to give a specific number for either fund so far in 2011, but described the performance of both as "very good indeed."
In 2008, oil soared to almost $150 a barrel as strong demand cut spare capacity in members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
The oil minister of Saudi Arabia, the largest producer in OPEC, said on Monday the group's spare capacity was around 6 million bpd, with 4 million of that in the kingdom.
But rising demand in emerging economies is expected to put pressure on the producer group to draw on that capacity this year, and some analysts have cast doubt on how much they have in reserve.
Pickens is a long-term advocate of the United States switching to natural gas as a transportation fuel and reducing its reliance on imported oil, especially from the Middle East.
From the oil deals that made his name as a legendary corporate raider two decades ago, he has increasingly focused publicly on his investments in renewable energy and his 'Pickens Plan' to "break America's addiction to foreign oil."
But short term at least, the holdings of his equity fund filed with the SEC in November confirm he remains bullish on the outlook for crude, with 11 investments of more than $10 million in oil and oil services companies.
His net worth rose to $3.5 billion in 2007 but was slashed by almost two-thirds by crashing commodity prices and stock markets in the second-half of 2008. It recovered by almost a third in 2009.
Pickens has frequently said the U.S. government lacks a long-term energy strategy, despite being the world's largest oil consumer, and cautioned oil prices could triple in the next 10 years without one.
"Where else in the world doesn't have an energy plan," said Pickens, who has been in Washington over the past week in a bid to win support from the new Republican Congress for his energy plan to run more vehicles on natural gas.
He said he was confident of seeing a deal this year with the support of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
"If we don't do something to reduce our reliance on imported oil, we could see $300 a barrel in the next decade."
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