They are calling him Arjun “Spike” Murti, but his real middle name is Narayana, the supreme manifestation of the Hindu God Vishnu.
Supreme he is, in the oil world. The little known Indian analyst at Goldman Sachs has become a cause célèbre — or a doomsday prophet — for his forecasts about oil prices, based on what he calls the “super-spike” theory, predicated on rising demand for crude and limitations in refining capacity.
Murti, 38, now a managing director at Goldman Sachs, first came to the fore as far back as 2003-2004 when he predicted that oil prices would breach $80 a barrel when it was still in the 30s. He was sneered at. He was mocked again when he predicted in 2005 that it would double from $50 to $100 before the end of the decade.
Last month, when he forecast that a barrel of oil could even touch $200, no one was laughing as it surged to $125 on Friday.
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BEACH PETROLEUM $ 1.24
ROC OIL $2.26
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WOODSIDE PETROLEUM $58.95
So little is known about Murti that it is driving the info-hungry media batty. Unlike many analysts, he does not appear on business television; he does not give interviews (he did not respond to emails for this story), and there are no pictures of him in the public domain.
Database searches do not provide much information (other than his dire forecasts) except that he lives in New Jersey with his wife Rita and sold a million dollar home couple of years back. And oh, he ran a 5km race in Summit, NJ in 2006, timing 24:49m.
He’s the phantom analyst who’s got the world market spooked. Some of what he is – a blunt-speaking, candid analyst – can be gleaned from his one appearance before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce in July 2004, where he is introduced as a “Managing Director and Senior Equity Investment Analyst” covering the oil sector at Goldman Sachs, his lair for nearly a decade.
In a trenchant testimony that clearly spoke to the crisis developing today, Murti basically tells US lawmakers that the country is up shitt creek, to use that euphonious euphemism, unless it weans itself away from gas-guzzling SUVs, particularly since it has not build any new refineries for the past 30 years and the administration offers few incentives to energy companies to do so.
But many in the financial media backed him. “Murti’s report is a thoughtful, 30-page piece of logical analysis that was grossly oversimplified,” noted Fortune , dismissing the notion of insider trading as “idiotic.”
Murti himself never once attributed the demand from India, which consumes 2.5 million barrels of oil a day (one third of China and one eighth of US) for the spike. Today, most doubters of Murti’s spike theory stand punctured as price for a barrel of crude moves up from looking like a basketball score to a Twenty20 total.
As they moan about paying $3.65 a gallon at the pump, Americans could well be muttering curses at prices