Bye, Bubble? The Price of Oil May Be Peaking-(video at site)

IT'S PERILOUS TO CALL THE TOP IN A BOOMING MARKET, but the price of oil may be peaking in the current range of $130 to $140 a barrel.

Oil's sharp move up -- prices have doubled in the past year -- caught the world by surprise, including almost everyone involved in the petroleum market, from major exporting nations to big energy companies to the global analyst community.

The rally has emboldened oil bulls, who argue the world is bumping up against oil-supply constraints, and that demand will rise inexorably, despite sharply higher prices, as the four billion to five billion people in emerging economies like China and India get a taste of the energy-intensive good life, replete with the cars, air conditioners, refrigerators and computers that Americans and Western Europeans have long enjoyed.

Statistics support their view that demand growth is in its infancy in the developing world: U.S. per-capita oil consumption is 25 barrels annually, while Japan uses 14 barrels per person. China's 1.3 billion people consume just two barrels each per year, however, and India's 1.1 billion use less than a barrel a year.

In the next decade, oil indeed may hit $200 a barrel. But prices could fall to $100 a barrel by the end of this year if Saudi Arabia makes good on its pledge to increase production; global demand eases; the Federal Reserve begins lifting short-term interest rates; the dollar rallies, and investors stop pouring money into the oil market. China raised prices on retail gasoline and diesel fuel by 18% Thursday, in a move that is expected to curb demand.

Jason Edmiston

It's tough to know how much of the surge in crude-oil prices -- up 40% just this year -- reflects fundamental supply and demand, and how much is due to other factors, including the dollar, commodity speculation and interest from institutional investors. Like some others, we suspect the run-up was fueled by more than economics.

THERE IS GROWING TALK OF AN OIL BUBBLE, THOUGH evidence of asset bubbles isn't conclusive until they burst. The trajectory of oil prices in the past eight years looks eerily similar to the Nasdaq's eight-year run to a peak of more than 5,000 in March 2000. More than eight years later, the Nasdaq is at half that level.