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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

California wildfire explodes in size, destroys historic town

Battalion Chief Sergio Mora looks on as the Dixie fire burns through downtown Greenville, Calif. on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo: Josh EdelsonAFP via Getty Images

The small Sierra town of Greenville, California, was heavily damaged on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

The latest: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze, continued to threaten communities in Plumas County into Thursday night, as more mandatory evacuation orders were issued in the region.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Top labor leader Richard Trumka dies unexpectedly at 72

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who led the largest federation of unions in the country for over a decade, has died at 72.

The big picture: Trumka began working as a coal miner in 1968 and would go on to dedicate his life to the labor movement, including as president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO beginning in 2009.

Biden signs bill awarding Congressional Gold Medals to officers who responded to Jan. 6 attack

President Biden, joined by Vice President Harris, lawmakers and members of law enforcement and their families, signs legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to law enforcement in the Rose Garden. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden signed legislation awarding Congressional Gold Medals to the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Why it matters: The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress' "highest expression of national appreciation," notes the New York Times.