Iran's nuclear program has been captivating the attention of oil speculators, but it was ultimately the developments in Italy that drove prices toward $100 per barrel on Tuesday.
According to CNBC reporter Bertha Coombs, Nymex crude ended the session at $96.80, a gain of 1.3 percent, and its highest level since July 28, after a late surge on reports Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered to resign.
Middle East conflicts
The International Atomic Energy Agency is releasing a highly anticipated report outlining Iran's nuclear weapon efforts and will help to clarify the potential for military conflict in the region.
In preparation of the report, oil prices have been steadily rising. But of equal importance is the likelihood of power struggles in the Middle East, particularly if Israel takes preemptive action against Iran's nuclear threat.
A threat to Iran's nuclear activity can ultimately have a profound effect on oil prices. Iran is not only the world's fourth largest oil producer, the country controls the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all seaborne oil shipments pass. If war starts, Iran could foreseeably shut down the straight, causing oil prices to shoot up very quickly.
Beyond the threat to Israel, energy Citi Futures analyst Tim Evans says Iran's nuclear ambitions are potentially destabilizing for others in the region, and for energy production. (via CNBC)
Global economic factors
While Iran's nuclear activity is in the foreground of pricing, threat to global economic conditions also serve a significant role.
According to Addison Armstrong or Tradition Energy, the real backdrop for the push in oil prices toward $100 will continue to be global economic issues and the increasing need for more government action.
"The fact that the economies around the globe are still struggling," will prompt governments to take action, Armstrong said. "Without a doubt there's going to be a shift in the West from austerity to stimulus ... Austerity just doesn't appear to be the answer. These budgets need to grow."
If there was a showdown between Israel and Iran, it is highly likely that we'll see rising oil prices (because of Iran's status as one of the world's biggest oil producers and its proximity to the Straits of Hormuz).
So, which oil stocks stand to benefit the most from rising oil prices, in the event of rising geopolitical tensions? For ideas, we started with a list of oil stocks that have already shown signs of outperforming the market. All of the stocks mentioned below are on long winning streaks (as measured by their day-to-day performance relative to the S&P 500 index).
In addition, all of these names have seen significant institutional buying during the current quarter.
Big money managers seem to think there's more upside to these oil stocks, and recent momentum has been very bullish. Do you think there's more upside to these names?
Use this list as a starting point for your own analysis. (Click here to access free, interactive tools to analyze these ideas.)
List compiled by Eben Esterhuizen, CFA:
1. Pioneer Natural Resources
2. Gulfport Energy
3. Delek US Holdings
4. Petroleum Development
Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the stocks mentioned above. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.
Kapitall's Eben Esterhuizen and Rebecca Lipman do not own any of the shares mentioned above.
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