Oil Prices Have Been Rising And $4 A Gallon Gasoline Would Put Enormous Stress On The U.S. Economy

Thanks to increasing demand and upcoming U.S. sanctions against Iran, oil prices have been rising and some analysts are forecasting that they will surge even higher in the months ahead.  Unfortunately, that would be very bad news for the U.S. economy at a time when concerns about a major economic downturn have already been percolating.  In recent years, extremely low gasoline prices have been one of the factors that have contributed to a period of relative economic stability in the United States.  Because our country is so spread out, we import such a high percentage of our goods, and we are so dependent on foreign oil, our economy is particularly vulnerable to gasoline price shocks.  Anyone that lived in the U.S. during the early 1970s can attest to that.  If the average price of gasoline rises to $4 a gallon by the end of 2018 that will be really bad news, and if the average price of gasoline were to hit $5 a gallon that would be catastrophic for the economy.

Very early on Tuesday, the price of U.S. oil surged past $70 a barrel in anticipation of the approaching hurricane along the Gulf Coast.  The following comes from Fox Business

U.S. oil prices rose on Tuesday, breaking past $70 per barrel, after two Gulf of Mexico oil platforms were evacuated in preparation for a hurricane.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $70.05 per barrel at 0353 GMT, up 25 cents, or 0.4 percent from their last settlement.

If we stay at about $70 a gallon, that isn’t going to be much of a problem.

But some analysts are now speaking of “an impending supply crunch”, and that is a very troubling sign.  For example, just check out what Stephen Brennock is saying

“Exports from OPEC’s third-biggest producer are falling faster than expected and worse is to come ahead of a looming second wave of U.S. sanctions,” said Stephen Brennock, analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil Associates. “Fears of an impending supply crunch are gaining traction.”

So how high could prices ultimately go?

Well, energy expert John Kilduff is now projecting that we could see the price of gasoline at $4 a gallon by winter

Energy expert John Kilduff counts Iran sanctions as the top reason West Texas Intermediate (WTI) could climb as much as 30 percent by winter, and that could spell $4 a gallon unleaded gasoline at the pumps.

“The global market is tight and it’s getting tighter, and the big strangle around the market right now is what’s in the process of happening with Iran and the Iran sanctions,” the Again Capital founding partner said on CNBC’s “Futures Now.”

About two months from now, U.S. sanctions will formally be imposed on Iran, and that is going to significantly restrict the supply of oil available in the marketplace.

So refiners that had relied on Iranian oil are “scrambling” to find new suppliers, and this could ultimately drive oil prices much higher

Iran’s oil exports are plummeting, as refiners scramble to find alternatives ahead of a re imposition of U.S. sanctions in early November. That in turn has helped drain a glut of unsold oil.

“To the extent we’re seeing the Iran barrels lost to the market, you’re looking at a WTI price and Brent in the $85 to $95 range, potentially,” Kilduff said.

Other sources are also predicting that oil prices will rise.

Barclays is warning that “prices could reach $80 and higher in the short term”, and BNP Paribas is now anticipating that Brent crude will average $79 a barrel in 2019.

In addition to the upcoming Iranian sanctions, rising global demand for oil is also a major factor that is pushing up prices.

For example, many Americans don’t even realize that China has surpassed us and has now become the biggest crude oil importer on the entire planet

China became the world’s largest crude oil importer in 2017, surpassing the US and importing 8.4 million barrels per day.

The US only imported 7.9 million barrels per day in 2017, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

So what is the bottom line for U.S. consumers?

The bottom line is that gasoline prices are likely to jump substantially, and that is going to affect prices for almost everything else that you buy.

Excluding tech products, virtually everything else that Americans purchase has to be transported, and so the price of gasoline must be factored into the cost.

So if gasoline prices shoot up quite a bit, that means that almost everything is going to cost more.

And this would be happening at a time when inflation is already on the rise

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, less food and energy, hit 2.4% in July 2018. That’s its highest reading since September 2008.

Of course 2.4 percent doesn’t really sound that scary, and that is how the government likes it.

But if the rate of inflation was still calculated the way it was back in 1990, the current inflation rate would be above 6 percent.

And if the rate of inflation was still calculated the way it was back in 1980, the current inflation rate would be above 10 percent.

Inflation is a hidden tax on all of us, and it is one of the big reasons why the middle class is being eroded so rapidly.

Please do not underestimate the impact of the price of oil.  It shot above $100 a barrel in 2008, and it was one of the factors that precipitated the financial crisis later that year.

Now we are rapidly approaching another crisis point, and there are so many wildcards that could potentially cause major problems.

One of those wildcards that I haven’t even talked about in this article would be a major war in the Middle East.  One of these days it will happen, and the price of oil will instantly soar to well above $100 a barrel.

We live at a time of rising global instability, and we should all learn to start expecting the unexpected.

This article originally appeared on The Economic Collapse Blog.  About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is publisher of The Most Important News and the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

 

Anyone That Believes That Collapsing Oil Prices Are Good For The Economy Is Crazy

Oil - Public DomainAre much lower oil prices good news for the U.S. economy?  Only if you like collapsing capital expenditures, rising unemployment and a potential financial implosion on Wall Street.  Yes, lower gasoline prices are good news for the middle class.  I certainly would rather pay two dollars for a gallon of gas than four dollars.  But in order to have money to fill up your vehicle you have got to have an income first.  And since the last recession, the energy sector has been the number one creator of good jobs in the U.S. economy by far.  Barack Obama loves to stand up and take credit for the fact that the employment picture in this country has been improving slightly, but without the energy industry boom, unemployment would be through the roof.  And now that the “energy boom” is rapidly becoming an “energy bust”, what will happen to the struggling U.S. economy as we head into 2015?

At the start of this article I mentioned that much lower oil prices would result in “collapsing capital expenditures”.

If you do not know what a “capital expenditure” is, the following is a definition that comes from Investopedia

“Funds used by a company to acquire or upgrade physical assets such as property, industrial buildings or equipment. This type of outlay is made by companies to maintain or increase the scope of their operations. These expenditures can include everything from repairing a roof to building a brand new factory.”

Needless to say, this kind of spending is very good for an economy.  It builds infrastructure, it creates jobs and it is an investment in the future.

In recent years, energy companies have been pouring massive amounts of money into capital expenditures.  In fact, the energy sector currently accounts for about a third of all capital expenditures in the United States according to Deutsche Bank

US private investment spending is usually ~15% of US GDP or $2.8trn now. This investment consists of $1.6trn spent annually on equipment and software, $700bn on non-residential construction and a bit over $500bn on residential. Equipment and software is 35% technology and communications, 25-30% is industrial equipment for energy, utilities and agriculture, 15% is transportation equipment, with remaining 20-25% related to other industries or intangibles. Non-residential construction is 20% oil and gas producing structures and 30% is energy related in total. We estimate global investment spending is 20% of S&P EPS or 12% from US. The Energy sector is responsible for a third of S&P 500 capex.

These companies make these investments because they believe that there are big profits to be made.

Unfortunately, when the price of oil crashes those investments become unprofitable and capital expenditures start getting slashed almost immediately.

For example, the budget for 2015 at ConocoPhillips has already been reduced by 20 percent

ConocoPhillips is one of the bigger shale players. And its decision to slash its budget for next year by 20% is raising eyebrows. The company said the new target reflects lower spending on major projects as well as “unconventional plays.” Despite the expectation that others will follow, it doesn’t mean U.S. shale oil production is dead. Just don’t expect a surge in spending like in recent years.

And Reuters is reporting that the number of new well permits for the industry as a whole plunged by an astounding 40 percent during the month of November…

Plunging oil prices sparked a drop of almost 40 percent in new well permits issued across the United States in November, in a sudden pause in the growth of the U.S. shale oil and gas boom that started around 2007.

Data provided exclusively to Reuters on Tuesday by industry data firm Drilling Info Inc showed 4,520 new well permits were approved last month, down from 7,227 in October.

If the price of oil stays this low or continues dropping, this is just the beginning.

Meanwhile, the flow of good jobs that this industry has been producing is also likely to start drying up.

According to the Perryman Group, the energy sector currently supports 9.3 million permanent jobs in this country

According to a new study, investments in oil and gas exploration and production generate substantial economic gains, as well as other benefits such as increased energy independence. The Perryman Group estimates that the industry as a whole generates an economic stimulus of almost $1.2 trillion in gross product each year, as well as more than 9.3 million permanent jobs across the nation.

The ripple effects are everywhere. If you think about the role of oil in your life, it is not only the primary source of many of our fuels, but is also critical to our lubricants, chemicals, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and many other items we come into contact with every day. The industry supports almost 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing alone and is responsible for almost $1.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. If you think about the law, accounting, and engineering firms that serve the industry, the pipe, drilling equipment, and other manufactured goods that it requires, and the large payrolls and their effects on consumer spending, you will begin to get a picture of the enormity of the industry.

And these are good paying jobs.  They aren’t eight dollar part-time jobs down at your local big box retailer.  These are jobs that comfortably support middle class families.  These are precisely the kinds of jobs that we cannot afford to lose.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable economic difference between areas of the country where energy is being produced and where energy is not being produced.

Since December 2007, a total of 1.36 million jobs have been gained in shale oil states.

Meanwhile, a total of 424,000 jobs have been lost in non-shale oil states.

So what happens now that the shale oil boom is turning into a bust?

That is a very good question.

Even more ominous is what an oil price collapse could mean for our financial system.

The last time the price of oil declined by more than 40 dollars in less than six months, there was a financial meltdown on Wall Street and we experienced the deepest recession that we have seen since the days of the Great Depression.

And now many fear that this collapse in the price of oil could trigger another financial panic.

According to Citigroup, the energy sector now accounts for 17 percent of the high yield bond market.

J.P. Morgan says that it is actually 18 percent.

In any event, the reality of the matter is that the health of these “junk bonds” is absolutely critical to our financial system.  And according to Deutsche Bank, if these bonds start defaulting it could “trigger a broader high-yield market default cycle”

Based on recent stress tests of subprime borrowers in the energy sector in the US produced by Deutsche Bank, should the price of US crude fall by a further 20pc to $60 per barrel, it could result in up to a 30pc default rate among B and CCC rated high-yield US borrowers in the industry. West Texas Intermediate crude is currently trading at multi-year lows of around $75 per barrel, down from $107 per barrel in June.

A shock of that magnitude could be sufficient to trigger a broader high-yield market default cycle, if materialized,” warn Deutsche strategists Oleg Melentyev and Daniel Sorid in their report.

If the price of oil stays at this level or continues to go down, it is inevitable that we will start to see some of these junk bonds go bad.

In fact, one Motley Fool article recently stated that one industry analyst believes that up to 40 percent of all energy junk bonds could eventually go into default…

The junk bonds, or noninvestment-rated bonds, of energy companies are also beginning to see heavy selling as investors start to worry that drillers could one day default on these bonds. Those defaults could get so bad, according to one analyst, that up to 40% of all energy junk bonds go into default over the next few years if oil prices don’t recover.

That would be a total nightmare for Wall Street.

And of course bond defaults would only be part of the equation.  As I wrote about the other day, a crash in junk bonds is almost always followed by a significant stock market correction.

In addition, plunging oil prices could end up absolutely destroying the banks that are holding enormous amounts of energy derivatives.  This is something that I recently covered in this article and this article.

As you read this, there are five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives.  Of course only a small fraction of that total exposure is made up of energy derivatives, but a small fraction of 40 trillion dollars is still a massive amount of money.

These derivatives trades are largely unregulated, and even Forbes admits that they are likely to be at the heart of the coming financial collapse…

No one understands the derivative risk positions of the Too Big To Fail Banks, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. There is presently no way to measure the risks involved in the leverage, quantity of collateral, or stability of counter-parties for these major institutions. To me personally they are big black holes capable of potential wrack and ruin. Without access to confidential internal data about these risky derivative positions the regulators cannot react in a timely and measured fashion to block the threat to financial stability, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

So do we have any hope?

Yes, if oil prices start going back up, much of what you just read about can be averted.

Unfortunately, that does not seem likely any time soon.  Even though U.S. energy companies are cutting back on capital expenditures, most of them are still actually projecting an increase in production for 2015.  Here is one example from Bloomberg

Continental, the biggest holder of drilling rights in the Bakken, last month said 2015 output will grow between 23 percent and 29 percent even after shelving plans to allocate more money to exploration.

Higher levels of production will just drive the price of oil even lower.

At this point, Morgan Stanley is saying that the price of oil could plummet as low as $43 a barrel next year.

If that happens, it would be absolutely catastrophic to the most important industry in the United States.

In turn, that would be absolutely catastrophic for the economy as a whole.

So don’t let anyone tell you that much lower oil prices are “good” for the economy.

That is just a bunch of nonsense.

5 Dollar Gas? Get Ready To Pay An Arm And A Leg For Gasoline

One of the quickest ways to bring down the U.S. economy would be to dramatically increase the price of oil. Oil is the lifeblood of our economic system. Without it, our entire economy would come to a grinding halt. Almost every type of economic activity in this country depends on oil, and even a small rise in the price of oil can have a dramatic impact on economic growth.  That is why so many economists are incredibly alarmed about what is happening in the Middle East right now.  The revolution in Libya caused the price of WTI crude to soar more than 7 dollars on Tuesday alone.  It closed at $93.57 on Tuesday and Brent crude actually hit $108.57 a barrel before settling back to $105.78 at the end of the day.  Some analysts are warning that we could even see 5 dollar gas in the United States by the end of the year if rioting spreads to other oil producing nations such as Saudi Arabia.  With the Middle East in such a state of chaos right now it is hard to know exactly what is going to happen, but almost everyone agrees that if oil prices continue to rise at a rapid pace over the next several months it is going to have a devastating impact on economic growth all over the globe.

Right now the eyes of the world are on Libya.  Libya is the 17th largest oil producer on the globe and it has the biggest proven oil reserves on the continent of Africa.

Libya only produces 2 percent of the oil in the world, but with global supplies so tight at the moment even a minor production disruption can have a dramatic impact on the price of oil.

Before this crisis, Libya was producing approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.  Now the rest of the world is wondering what may happen if revolution spreads to other major oil producing nations such as Kuwait (2.5 million barrels of oil per day) or Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia produces 8.4 million barrels of oil a day.  It produces more oil than anyone else in OPEC.

If revolution strikes in Saudi Arabia and a major production disruption happens it could be catastrophic for the global economy.

David Rosenberg, the chief economist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates, is warning that if there is major civil unrest in Saudi Arabia we could end up seeing oil go up to $200 a barrel….

“If Libya can spark a $10-a-barrel response, imagine what a similar uprising in Saudi Arabia could unleash. Do the math: we’d be talking about $200 oil.”

200 dollar oil?

Don’t laugh – it could happen.

In fact, if it does happen the global economy would probably go into cardiac arrest.

The truth is that if the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia gets disrupted there is not enough spare capacity from the rest of the globe to make up for it.

Paul Horsnell, the head of oil research at Barclays Capital, recently said that the world does not currently have enough spare capacity to be able to guarantee that an oil “price shock” will not happen….

“The world has only 4.5m barrels-per-day (bpd) of spare capacity, which is not comfortable.”

Horsnell also said that even in the midst of potential supply problems, the global demand for oil continues to grow at a very robust pace….

“In just two years, the world has grown so fast as to consume additional volume equal to the output of Iraq and Kuwait combined.”

For now, Saudi officials are saying all the right things.  They say that there will be no revolution in Saudi Arabia and that there are not going to be any supply problems.

For example, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi recently announced that the rest of the world should not worry because his country is definitely going to be able to make up for any shortage in the global supply of oil….

“What I would like you to convey to the market: right now there is absolutely no shortage of supply.”

But what happens if revolution comes to Saudi Arabia?

Suddenly the whole game would change.

But even with a peaceful Saudi Arabia the price of gasoline in the United States is already rising to alarming levels.

The average price of gasoline in the United States reached $3.14 a gallon last week.  This closely mirrors what happened back in 2008.  Three years ago at this time the average price of gasoline was right around $3.13 a gallon.

Let’s certainly hope that we don’t see a repeat of what happened to oil prices back in mid-2008.  The price of oil reached an all-time record of $147 a barrel and gas prices in the United States absolutely skyrocketed.

So how high will the price of gas in the U.S. go in 2011?

We haven’t even come close to 4 dollar gas yet, but a large number of analysts believe that it is coming this summer.

Is there even a possibility that we could see 5 dollar gas in America at some point in the next couple of years?

Well, there are some in the oil industry that are convinced that it could actually happen.  Just consider the following quotes….

Darin Newsom, senior analyst at energy tracker DTN….

“If this thing escalates and there’s a good chance that there’d be a shift in supplies, $5 gas isn’t out of the question.”

Peter Beutel, president of energy adviser Cameron Hanover….

“If you are looking at the disruption of movement and production in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, you’re easily talking $5 gas.”

John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil, on his belief that we could see 5 dollar gas by 2012….

“I’m predicting actually the worst outcome over the next two years which takes us to 2012 with higher gasoline prices.”

So why is everyone so concerned about gas prices?

Well, because it affects the price of almost everything else in the economy.

David Wyss, the chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, says that every extra dollar that is spent on gasoline is a dollar that will not be spent somewhere else….

“The money that you spend filling up your car is money you don’t have to spend at the shopping mall.”

Not only that, but when gasoline costs more it has a negative effect on economic growth.  Almost all economic activities involve the use of oil in one form or another.  When the price of oil starts getting really high it motivates people to start cutting back on many of those activities.

The truth is that our whole economic system is based on the ability to use massive amounts of very cheap oil.  Now that the price of oil is rapidly rising again, many economists are becoming very alarmed.

Nobuo Tanaka, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, recently told CNBC that his organization is extremely concerned about what high oil prices could do to the global economy….

“That is our concern, regardless of the margins of disruption, if the $100 per barrel of oil is continued in 2011, the burden of oil to the global economy is as bad as 2008.”

So what was so bad about 2008?  Well, the price of oil soared to $147 a barrel in mid-2008 and this was a huge factor in the financial collapse that happened a few months later.  Now oil prices are returning to levels that we have not seen since 2008….

So if the price of oil breaks the all-time record this year will we see another global financial crisis?

It is hard to say.  But what almost everyone agrees on is that it will not be good for the global economy at all.

In addition, a higher price for oil will also have a huge impact on the trade deficit.  Because oil prices were at such a high level back in 2008, oil imports actually made up almost 50 percent of the U.S. trade deficit that year.

In 2010, the U.S. trade deficit was just a whisker under $500 billion.  If the price of oil gets up to 140 or 150 dollars a barrel we could easily see the U.S. trade deficit explode to 700 or 800 billion dollars in 2011.

That would be really, really bad for the U.S. economy.

So where are oil prices going next?

Well, if you could predict that with 100 percent certainty you could make a whole lot of money.  Nobody knows for sure.

But almost everyone believes that the price of oil is going to go up.  In fact, a lot number of investors have been making some very large bets that the price of oil is going to go up very significantly this year.

Recently, large numbers of investors have been betting that the price of oil will rise to $125 a barrel by May.  Shockingly, some investors have even been betting that the price of oil will rise to $250 a barrel by next December.

Let us hope that the price of oil does not rise that rapidly, but as the past couple of months have demonstrated, the world is becoming a very unstable place.   Just about anything is possible at this point.

If the price of oil rises significantly above $100 a barrel and it stays there for an extended period of time, it is going to be absolutely devastating for the U.S. economy.

So what do you all think is going to happen to the price of oil in 2011?  Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts below….