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Photo: David McNew/Getty

After a year of competition, the price of Brent crude closed at $52.20 a barrel, and congratulations began to pour in on Twitter. It was last Friday and — for the third time in four years — I looked like a strong shot to win the Oil Bet, an annual contest among some two dozen energy analysts, academics and reporters to project Brent's year-end price. A snarky suggestion from a former BP executive was that Goldman Sachs — itself far out of the money — put me on the payroll.

Yes, but: In the most topsy-turvy market in a decade, everyone knew that actually anything could happen, and on Monday, in the final two hours of trading for the year, it did — oil prices made a dramatic bullish lurch. The crown went to Brian Scheid, of S&P Global Platts.

How the impossible year went down: The Oil Bet began four years ago as a lark among five oil fanatics on Twitter (here is its history, written by Leslie Hayward, now of Rapidan, who privately took on the role of administrator). The prize is small — a glass of red wine. But since it has grown to some three dozen bettors.

For most of 2018, it looked like I had no shot at all. Based on a forecast I had seen that supplies would flood the market in the last quarter, my wager was $50.01 a barrel.

  • That quickly looked ludicrous as, with a superlatively disciplined OPEC-Russia tandem, the price rose rapidly into the $70s-per-barrel and then the $80s. The talk was a return to $100-a-barrel oil. I was not thinking victory, but humiliation.
  • Then, abruptly — in October — the mood shifted. The market suddenly noticed that U.S. shale drillers had added almost 2 million barrels of oil a day.
  • The price began to plunge. By Dec. 1, it was under $60, a 30% plummet. Impossibly, I could see it was heading my way — I could win as long as the end-year price was between $49.50 and $53.49.

As of 1 pm Monday — two hours before the close — I was feeling pretty good.

Then came the bullish flush. Soon, the price finally closed at $53.80, 31 cents over my threshold. Brian was the winner with a wager of $57.

Life goes on. The bets are already in for 2019.

Go deeper

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Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

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  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
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  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
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The week markets went wild

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio

The markets just closed out a manic week.

Why it matters: Outsized — and in some cases historic — moves were evident across the board.