So far this summer, estimates about the timing, magnitude and shape of the recovery in the world economy and, in particular, crude oil demand and price keep fluctuating. They are powered by hopeful signs, only to be dialed back by reality.

Even for the leanest, meanest producer sitting on the best assets in the land, fate hinges on the nature of the recovery. Bernstein Research analyst Bob Brackett has questioned if the emerging E&P business model will look more like Lazarus or like a zombie. If careful spending to keep production flat continues to be the right way to go, what then is the catalyst to invest in any company?

It appears the warning lights are still yellow, but they are interrupted by the occasional flash of green—and then, unfortunately, of red.

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