It was over a year ago now that people, including myself, started to say we would never see fifty-dollar oil again. Wrong on that one. In fact, [game show buzzer noise]. Some economists predicted the price of oil would collapse, but they got the reasons wrong, very wrong. The ongoing meltdown blindsided the predictors as the pullback in demand for energy proved to be far more severe, and more global, than was generally expected.

2008 was the craziest year ever energy-wise. People wonder what in the heck 2009 has in store. Let's flip through the papers and see if we can find some bold souls inching precariously out onto limbs.

Sure enough, an article in the Houston Chronicle tells us:

Credit research firm CreditSights slashed its average price outlook to $48.75 a barrel from $75, mirroring similar moves in recent weeks by other analysts.

The same article notes that the US Energy Information Administration cut its 2009 estimate to $43.25.

From Bloomberg:

"On average, we expect prices to be around $50 for WTI and Brent" this year, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Merrill Lynch & Co. in London, said on Bloomberg television.

That's emerging as the safe consensus. From the same Bloomberg article, how low could it go:

"Oil will have to drop into the high $20s before it finds its feet," said Bill O'Grady, chief markets strategist at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis. "We are looking at a huge drop in demand."

High twenties. We could be in the high twenties by the time I finish this blorg post. Brian Baskin of the WSJ sees continued low prices:

The cycle is unlikely to be broken until the storage crunch eases at Cushing.

More of the same theme here:

Oil is likely to hit $60 a barrel or higher by July because by then supplies will be shrinking at a faster rate than demand, a US-based fund manager told Reuters on Thursday. But Adam Robinson, director of commodities at Armored Wolf, said prices could test new lows before the market starts to tighten.

The AP quoted Australian analyst Gerard Rigby, sounding hopeful yet too gun-shy to offer any solid numbers:

"OPEC is cutting and that should start impacting inventories," Rigby said. "Economies will start turning around, and I think demand is bottoming out."

What about the long term outlook? David Kent of Rigzone has this to say:

Will oil prices drop to $20, or will they catapult to $200? In the short-term, it is anyone's guess. In the long-term, the answer is simple -- if we use a little history and a bit of common sense. Growing up in an oil family and working within the industry for the past decade, I have experienced some interesting times. The oil and gas industry is notorious for its cyclical nature and dramatic ups and downs. ... I do not believe low commodity prices and rig counts will be here for long. Simply put, our industry rises and falls with the price of oil and gas, and two simple truths will provide upward pressure on prices for decades to come. Those truths: 1.) supply is finite, and 2.) the world population continues to grow at a tremendous rate.

Heap big assumption there in that last sentence, it seems to me.

Expensive oil still looming in the future. How far off is the question. So far, the effect of the economic collapse on the energy markets has been badly underestimated by, well, everybody. As of mid-January, uncertainty still rules.