With Iran cutting off its oil from Britain and France, oil prices have climbed to a nine-month high this week. So what will the impact be on gas prices here in the US? The answer may not be quite as simple as "gas prices rise when oil prices rise," says Econbrowser's James Hamilton. There's speculation involved, and the price fluctuations do not always follow as we expect:
Here's a closer look at the data over the last year. Average U.S. gasoline prices fell more than you would have predicted based on the Brent price. They have since come back up. But Brent has surged another $10/barrel over the last two weeks, and gasoline prices have yet to catch up to that latest move. Based on the historical relation, we might expect to see the average U.S. gasoline price rise from its current $3.59/gallon up to $3.84.
One factor that's been driving Brent and WTI up over the last few weeks has been rising tensions with Iran. But why should threats or fears alone affect the price we pay here and now? Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst at PFGBest Research in Chicago, offered this interpretation:
We're seeing panic buying in Europe and Asia because they're absolutely convinced that they're not going to be able to buy Iranian oil or there's going to be some kind of conflict that disrupts the transport of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.... there is a lot of hoarding in case the worst-case scenario happens. Asian buyers have been buying up West African crude like it's going out of style.
Does it make sense for consumers to suffer now just because of something that may or may not happen in the future? If there are significant disruptions, the answer will turn out to be yes. We'll be glad that we used a little less today, and left a little more in storage, to help us better cope with the huge challenges we'll be facing in a few months. If the answer turns out to be no, then this is all just a lot of pain for nothing.
Read Crude oil and gasoline prices here.
Also see Oil Prices and Consumer Spending from the Richmond Fed.
02-22-2012 11:27 AM
Filed under: prices, James Hamilton, Econbrowser, oil prices, gas prices, oil, commodities, commodity prices, crude oil, commodities markets, iran