Reports of slackening demand sent oil down another 2.5% on Thursday to $101.84 per barrel. Crude prices have declined 7.6% since the beginning of the week. Not long ago, that would have been an astonishing plunge that shook the trading establishment. These days? Nah, that's just the ho-hum volatility in the oil market. But how is it that crude can still trade above $100 a barrel, three times what it sold for at the start of the decade, despite a very wobbly economy?
If you want to understand that, it helps to listen in to ExxonMobil's (XOM, news, msgs) presentation to analysts in New York City in early March. Halfway through the three-hour meeting, Exxon management flashed a chart that showed the company's worldwide oil production staying flat through 2012.
Ponder that for a minute. Exxon is the largest publicly traded company in the energy business. In fact, it's the most profitable company in the history of capitalism, earning a record $40.6 billion last year on sales of $404 billion. Yet even with crude oil prices near all-time highs, Exxon isn't planning on producing any more oil four years from now than it did last year.