Monday, April 16, 2018
For anyone who has lived through gasoline shortages and price spikes, the recent headline in The Wall Street Journal may cause nightmares: “Americans Face Highest Pump Prices in Years.”
Sad but true. Not since 2014 have fuel costs been as high as they are expected to be during the peak driving season of 2018.
Lately, the national price has been around $2.70, which is not welcome to motorists but is a long way from excruciating.
What’s driving this upward pressure? Economic chaos under a leftist dictatorship has cut exports from Venezuela, which saw its total production plummet by 29 percent last year. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has implemented cuts in its overall output. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the European Union are enjoying solid growth and low unemployment, which boost demand for gasoline, which in turn tends to push prices up.
Right now, uncertainty is also weighing on oil futures. Will the U.S. and China avoid a trade war? Will events in Syria stoke hostilities in the Mideast? Either could stall the current global expansion. In that case, falling consumption eventually would drag down prices at the pump.
What this bump reminds us is how well the oil and gasoline markets have functioned in recent years. It’s hard to remember that in 2008, the price of crude went above $140 a barrel—and a Goldman Sachs industry analyst predicted it would reach $200, which translates into $6-a-gallon gasoline. His forecast was wrong, because it failed to account for how lucrative returns would drive oil companies to devise new ways to extract the stuff—or the demand-suppressing Great Recession, which those high oil prices may have helped to cause.
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