R. Baker on Gas and the Economy

High gas prices here to stay?
By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog

Below are links to two important articles.

The top one is a link and a clip from yesterday’s New York Times article that cites a Canadian bank, CIBC, which forsees $7 a gallon gasoline by 2012, only four years from now.

When the New York Times says this sort of thing, it does add credibility. They are citing the CIBC World Markets link here: How Much Higher Will Oil Prices Go?

CIBC, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, are Canadian Investment bankers and top economic analysts managing about $340 billion in assets, with about 40,000 employees: CBC World Markets.

Note the lead article at their site: “High gas prices are here to stay – Canadian motorists should brace for $1.40 litre gas this summer and over $2.25 in 2012”.

The NYT translates this as $7 per gallon gasoline, and describes peak oil production without using this term.

This is not just concerning high gas prices in isolation, but at the same time we should understand that the price of energy needed to move all goods would, and is now, leading to more general price inflation.

This is currently seen for food but will extend to all other goods moved by truck, which is about everything you now buy in the store. But the truckers are going broke at current fuel prices, and few stores are served by efficient rail.

At the bottom of this post is a Business Week article in full that points out various signs that high gas prices are now causing an actual nationwide drop in miles driven. So, if you understand that current gasoline prices are high enough to affect driving at $3.40 per gallon, just try to imagine the much more serious economic and political effects at $7 per gallon.

Oil Price Rise Fails to Open Tap

As oil prices soared to record levels in recent years, basic economics suggested that consumption would fall and supplies would rise as producers drilled for more oil.

But as prices flirt with $120 a barrel, many energy experts are becoming worried that neither seems to be happening. Higher prices have done little to suppress global demand or attract new production, and the resulting mismatch has sent oil prices ever higher.

That has translated into more pain at the pump, with gasoline setting a fresh record of $3.60 a gallon nationwide on Monday. Experts expect prices above $4 a gallon this summer, and one analyst recently predicted that gasoline could reach $7 in the next four years…

“What is disturbing here is that things seem to get worse, not better,” said David Greely, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. “These high prices are not attracting meaningful new supplies.”

The outlook for oil supplies “signals a period of unprecedented scarcity,” Jeff Rubin, an analyst at CIBC World Markets, said last week. Oil prices might exceed $200a barrel by 2012, he said, a level that would very likely mean $7-a-gallon gasoline in the United States…”

Source. / Jad Mouawad / New York Times

Gas May Finally Cost Too Much
Highway traffic is falling as pump prices climb.
Are Americans rethinking their auto addiction?
by Christopher Palmeri

For 20 years now, county workers in Palm Beach County, Fla., have been counting cars with sensors at strategic points along its 4,000 miles of roads. Nearly every year traffic volume has climbed at least 2%. But in 2007 there was a slight decline in the number of vehicles on the roads. This year traffic is down 7.5% through March. “We’re seeing a very significant change,” says county engineer George Webb. “We’re having a good time speculating why.”

It’s not just Palm Beach. Traffic levels are trending downward
nationwide. Preliminary figures from the Federal Highway
Administration show it falling 1.4% last year. Now, with nationwide
gasoline prices having passed the inflation-adjusted record of $3.40 a
gallon set back in 1981, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is
predicting that gasoline consumption will actually fall 0.3% this
year. That would be the first annual decline since 1991. Others
believe the falloff in consumption is steeper than the government’s
numbers show. “Our canaries out there tell us they are seeing demand
drop much more considerably than the fraction the EIA is talking
about,” says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information
Service, a Gaithersburg (Md.) market research firm.

Is oil-guzzling America changing its ways? Some think so, though it’s
worth noting the U.S. still consumes onethird of the world’s annual
gasoline output. “It appears we’ve finally hit the ceiling that’s
causing the U.S. population to rethink how and where they use their
vehicles,” says Paul Weissgarber, who heads the energy practice at
consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Just look at the latest auto sales figures. Sales fell 8% overall during the first quarter of 2008, and those of gas-hungry SUVs and pickup trucks dropped off a cliff, down 27% and 14%, respectively. High gas prices are forcing even SUV lovers to shift gears. Fed up with spending $100 five times a month to fill up his Chevy Suburban,
Ron Gesquere, an auto parts executive from suburban Detroit, recently bid $10,000 on eBay (EBAY) for a used Mini Cooper S. “I could make thepayments on the Mini with the savings in gas,” he says.

For years analysts have been surprised that gasoline consumption
continued to rise even as prices kept climbing. Now that consumption
has finally slowed, it remains to be seen if Americans are driving
less just because the economy is doing poorly or if they are altering
their behavior in a lasting way. Certainly consumers seem to be at a
psychological turning point. Fuel prices are rising faster than
incomes and show no sign of slowing down. Being green is trendy, and
the war in Iraq has fanned concerns about U.S. dependence on oil from abroad.

Consider, too, that ridership on public transport climbed to a 50-year high in 2007, reports the American Public Transportation Assn., as more companies start to pick up part of the tab for employee commuter costs. (Such corporate subsidies became tax-deductible recently.) And sales of more fuel-efficient cars are up. The shift has not been lost on Detroit’s Big Three, which heavily depend on SUV and pickup sales for profits. “Fuel economy Gas May Finally Cost Too Much as a selling point is absolutely here to stay,” says James Farley, group vice-president for marketing at FordMotor (F). “Our future plans revolve around the idea that gasoline is going sideways and up from here, not down.”


Demographic factors may also be driving down gasoline consumption. When the postwar march to the suburbs was in full swing and the nation’s highways expanded, gas consumption grew by an average of 4% a year. In more recent years that rate has moderated to 1.2%. A study released in April by the EIA posited that part of the decline could be attributed to falling population growth and baby boomers exiting their peak driving years. That translates into fewer car sales on a per capita basis. Many analysts have been knocking down their estimates of growth in worldwide oil demand because of weaker consumption in the U.S.

Mind you, it’s not yet certain that falling gas consumption is here to stay. Historically, consumption tends to dip during recessions, then rebounds with the economy. “There have really only been a few times Americans have cut back their gas consumption over a long period of time,” says Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Assn. “Those occasions are where you’ve had high prices and a recession, such as 1974 and 1981. It looks like we’re heading into another one of those.” EIA researchers expect consumption growth will rise back up to 0.9% next year—though that’s still below what the U.S. has averaged so far this decade.

So even if gas consumption does bounce back it’s likely to do so at a slower pace. “Consumer habits are pretty sticky,” says Adam Robinson, an energy analyst at Lehman Brothers (LEH). “We’ve seen a long period of high prices that has finally hit the consumer, and now they’re going to shift their preferences.”

Indeed, some commuters are finding public transport to their liking. Aly Cohen, a 27-year-old financial analyst at Costco Wholesale (COST), first tried taking the bus to work in January. Now, with her employer picking up most of the $63 tab for a monthly bus pass, she has stopped driving to work altogether and cut her gas consumption in half. “It’s nice,” she says. “I can take a nap or read.” Such a shift in commuting habits, if copied on a large scale, may alter U.S. energy consumption in significant and surprising ways.

For more on rising gasoline prices and motorists’ reactions, watch a
video report at BusinessWeek.com.

Source. / Business Week

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