US on ‘cusp’ of falling gas prices
Gasoline futures fell more than 10 percent Tuesday and are down more than 22 percent since June, raising hopes that the high price of gas across the country might soon fall.
The price of U.S. crude oil fell more than 8 percent and international benchmark Brent crude fell nearly 10 percent on Tuesday.
“We’re on the cusp of seeing more savings,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at gas price tracking site GasBuddy. “I’m trying to be a little bit optimistic here that this relief could make its entire way to the pump in the weeks ahead.”
The national average for a gallon of gasoline now stands at $4.78, according to AAA, down from a recent peak above $5 per gallon. A year ago, the national average was only $3.13, representing a 50 percent year-over-year spike in the price of gas.
And any drop in gasoline prices may also provide some political respite for the Biden administration, since even though presidents have little control over gasoline prices, they still face blame from voters and their political foes.
The price of U.S. crude oil was hovering around $98 per barrel on Wednesday afternoon, down from about $108 late last week. Brent crude fell to about $101 per barrel, down from about $111 late last week.
Earlier Wednesday, Brent prices briefly dipped below $100, the first time since April prices have been under $100 for the commodity.
Experts said they expect this trend to result in drops at the pump.
Marianne Kah, an adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said she expects the current drop in crude oil prices to translate to about a 12 percent decline — or about 60 cents — in gasoline prices from their peak level last month.
“We’re talking about 60 cents a gallon,” said Kah, who is also the former chief economist at oil company ConocoPhillips. “Now, of course it takes time to have the crude price flow through to the gasoline price.”
Meanwhile, De Haan said he thinks consumers could see another decline in the coming weeks ranging from an additional 40 cents to an additional 65 cents if the situation otherwise remains the same.
“The average price per gallon could fall 40 to 65 cents over the coming weeks,” he said, adding that the drop could be over a three- to six-week period.
“Stations are getting lower prices already,” he added. “Prices could go down a penny or two every day or two for the next six weeks as long as nothing changes.”
Experts say the decline is a double-edged sword, since the cheaper price isn’t due to any real changes on the supply side but rather to consumers scaling back their expenses and pulling down the expectation of demand.
“I think you’ll see gas prices come down,” Phil Flynn, energy markets analyst with the PRICE Futures Group, said in an interview with The Hill.
“We’re starting to see from the consumers, instead of paying $5 a gallon, they’re paying $4.80 a gallon — and isn’t that wonderful — but it’s also because they don’t have as much money in their pockets, and they’re not going out to dinner and to eat, so what we’re seeing is a pullback in demand. And that’s because people are feeling the pain of higher prices.”
But Kah also said there are still factors that could increase energy prices in the coming months, including if Russia decreases its oil production or if China’s demand grows.
Meanwhile, major banks this week are out with vastly different outlooks on the future of oil prices.
Citibank projected that if a recession hits, oil prices could fall to $65 per barrel this year and $45 per barrel next year.
“It just highlights the volatility and just even the difference in thinking,” De Haan said. “We just don’t know how things will play out. We still have an active hurricane season. The economy’s not too bad, even amidst recession fears. The jobs market is still very strong.”
But analysts agree that the current price drops are largely due to recession fears.
“It’s because of all the interest rate increases,” Kah said. “We’ve seen that [with] big interest rate increases, a recession follows with a lag historically, so expectations about a recession have increased.”
The decreased economic activity means the likelihood of a recession in the next year is increasing. An economic model from Bloomberg now puts the odds of a recession at 38 percent in 2023, according to tweet from the company Wednesday.
Experts say this drop in crude oil prices is also caused by decreased expectations in the energy needs of consumers and businesses as they adjust to high inflation.
The signs that inflation may have hit a peak and that prices could soon start falling across a range of sectors and categories are beginning to pile up, with commodity prices in particular taking a hit in the last few days.
Deutsche Bank analyst Jim Reid wrote in a Wednesday note to investors that a “rolling 20-day move in [Deutsche Bank’s] commodity index is now seeing around the third largest decline in 90 years.”
“The traditional industrial bellwether of copper was another victim of this trend, plummeting by another -5.36 percent yesterday to a 19-month low of its own, whilst wheat futures (-4.61 percent) are now trading beneath their levels prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Reid wrote along with analysts Henry Allen and Tim Wessel.
In the consumer goods sector, numerous big box outlets like Walmart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond have been dealing with excess inventories that could force continued markdowns and liquidations. Metrics that compare inventories to sales show that while lower prices may be on the horizon for consumers, the jostled supply chains that drive inflation are still out of whack.
Stacked-up inventories have also been reported for the semiconductor industry in South Korea. Computer chips produced by Samsung are used in a vast array of industries. Therefore, liquidation in that sector could lead to outcomes like more cars on dealer lots and more graphics cards available for the gaming industry.
“We’re seeing that high prices cure high prices,” PRICE Futures Group’s Flynn said.
“But I think we’re in a super-cycle here for a long period of time,” he added. “I think we’re in for a decade of higher prices. We’re going to see some peaks and valleys along the way, and just because we’re having a correction at the moment, I don’t think this is over yet.”