Whether there’s good news or bad news, either way it seems to work against American consumers where oil and gasoline prices are concerned. All we can do is provide context that will do one of three things: A) inform sufficiently so that patience prevails; B) incur contempt and frustration; or C) inspire indifference. We’re shooting for (A) to help everyone roll with the punches.
Earlier this year when the U.S. economy was anemic at best, NYMEX crude reached $107 per barrel and the average price of gasoline in the U.S. hit $3.90 per gallon. Price levels were blamed on U.S. fuel regulations mandating “summer blend” gas by May 1, and, consistent saber rattling from Iran and Israel.
We watched as fuel prices steadily climbed higher from the Fourth of July into August and suddenly Hurricane Isaac added insult to injury. Flash forward to today, September 5th.
Encouraging recent data from home builders in the U.S. suggests the American economy may finally be recovering. (And yes, a stronger economy brings higher prices at the pump.) France, Greece, Spain and Germany have reportedly made progress toward resolving the European debt crisis and that, in turn, pushed the euro to a six-week high versus the U.S. dollar. And regrettably, the saber-rattling has reached fever pitch.
There’s even talk that President Obama might release fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve… and that could have the opposite effect from what it intends if investors interpret the move to indicate that the President is looking to diffuse the spike that would result from an impending attack on Iran. Skeptics see something else going on that has more to do with politics.
Where does that leave us? The national average is at $3.80 per gallon, Gasoline in Chicago is the highest in the country at more than $4.30 per gallon and many cities, NY, LA, San Francicso, Detroit, are all well above $4 per gallon. Seven states plus Washington DC all have an average price above $4 even as Labor Day weekend has past.
History shows that Americans typically see the lowest gas prices in the fourth quarter as cheaper ‘winter blend’ gas become available and demand wanes. We believe that pattern will continue. But we could easily see a sudden spike in crude oil prices at any time. Sadly, Iran and Israel are two immoveable forces that seem to be preparing earnestly for military confrontation and Israel has publicly recognized the U.S. election in November as its decision-making fulcrum.
What can we expect? Hopefully, both are bluffing and we will all be grateful to play the fool. But what if either side chooses the preemptive first strike?