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Is there a new bull market in oil?

Is oil in a new bull market? Well, if one relies solely on the technical definition of a bull market - a 20 percent rally in the price of an asset - then, yes!

However, I have my doubts. Despite all the talk of a production freeze among Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar and Venezuela, there are still serious about whether or not other OPEC, like Iran, will go along. So far, the short answer is no.



Oil barrels
Gary Gladstone | Getty Images

In addition, this 20 percent bounce off the bear market low looks quite small on any crude oil chart. Consider the following:

Oil prices have not been in a bear market for two years, they've been in a bear market for almost eight years! Oil peaked in July 2008 at $145 per barrel at the peak of our worries about peak oil theory.

For those who don't recall the conversation, the notion that "Hubbard's Peak" had been reached dominated the business news headlines. The theory was based on the notion that oil production was entering a period of permanent decline and that the world was facing permanent shortages of oil and permanently higher prices for oil.

Since that Malthusian moment, oil has fallen over 82 percent.

The secondary peak occurred in 2014 when prices had rebounded to $107 per barrel, renewing talk of spiking still higher. Since then, prices have plunged nearly 76 percent, as fracking, and a surge in production among all producing and exporting nations drove oil to its most recent lows of under $30 per barrel.

I am inclined to believe that the tradable bounce, and it has been tradable, given the large, intra-day volatility we have seen of late, is transitory … a bear market, or dead cat, bounce.



While there may be more upside, I believe that oil is in a state of secular decline, both because of the over-abundance of supply and the very real possibility that demand for oil will continue to contract, and not just for economic reasons alone.

New technologies, whose advancement may stall amid very cheap oil, are still very real. Whether it is electric and/or hybrid cars, autos that are increasingly more fuel efficient, growing competition from natural gas to power not just utilities, but also vehicles, and you have the makings of a commodity that is dying.

It would not be unprecedented. We stopped burning wood when coal became accessible and abundant. Coal is going the way of wood, as natural gas has supplanted it as a cleaner and cheaper alternative.


Crude oil, itself, replaced kerosene as a source of fuel, except for jets, while the electric light bulb also knocked kerosene off its perch as a source of interior illumination.

The marginal utility of crude oil is destined to fall. We have more than enough, OPEC maneuvering notwithstanding. We have new technologies which are cleaner and, ultimately, even cheaper to use as fuel.

Not yet mentioned is the potential for structural, and secular, change in modes of transportation. Some experts envision a world in which Uber, Lyft, and a host of other companies, utilize autonomous, self-driving cars to carry passengers from point-to-point, driving down the demand for individually owned cars.



That would stall the record pace of auto sales we have seen in the last year and possibly re-shape, entirely, the individual transportation industry.

I remain convinced that oil prices are in secular decline. This appears, to me anyway, to be a bear market bounce in the price of oil.

Economist John Maynard Keynes once observed that "in the long run, we are all dead." The long run for oil looks equally terminal.


Commentary by Ron Insana, a CNBC and MSNBC contributor and the author of four books on Wall Street. Follow him on Twitter @rinsana.