An interesting question with huge repercussions.
By Louis Woodhill | Forbes
Panic is in the air as gasoline prices move above $4.00 per gallon. Politicians and pundits are rounding up the usual suspects, looking for someone or something to blame for this latest outrage to middle class family budgets. In a rare display of bipartisanship, President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner are both wringing their hands over the prospect of seeing their newly extended Social Security tax cut gobbled up by rising gasoline costs.
Unfortunately, the talking heads that are trying to explain the reasons for high oil prices are missing one tiny detail. Oil prices aren’t high right now. In fact, they are unusually low. Gasoline prices would have to rise by another $0.65 to $0.75 per gallon from where they are now just to be “normal”. And, because gasoline prices are low right now, it is very likely that they are going to go up more—perhaps a lot more.
Gas prices are LOW? That was my response as well. Then again, I’ve previously shown that usage is way down, yet price (in Dollars) is increasing. We’ve been missing the obvious.
In terms of judging whether the price of WTI [West Texas Intermediate crude, currently $105.88/bbl] is high or low, here is the price that truly matters: 0.0602 ounces of gold per barrel (which can be written as Au0.0602/bbl). What this number means is that, right now, a barrel of WTI has the same market value as 0.0602 ounces of gold.
During the 493 months since January 1, 1971, the price of WTI has averaged Au0.0732/bbl. It has been higher than that during 225 of those months and lower than that during 268 of those months. Plotted as a graph, the line representing the price of a barrel of oil in terms of gold has crossed the horizontal line representing the long-term average price (Au0.0732/bbl) 29 times.
Demand is not driving up the cost of Gasoline, a weak Dollar is.
At this point, we can be certain that, unless gold prices come down, gasoline prices are going to go up—by a lot. And, because the dollar is currently a floating, undefined, fiat currency, there is no inherent limit to how far the price of gold in dollars can rise, and therefore no ultimate ceiling on gasoline prices.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke uses a “core CPI index” that excludes food and energy to guide monetary policy. From Big Ben’s point of view, rising gasoline prices are not a problem. For the rest of us, they are becoming a big problem.
Gold, it should be noted, is once again on the rise having closed (as I write this) at $1,776/Oz. Which in turn means gasoline will be rising as well, yet will not be reflected in measures of inflation despite having quite a large impact on household budgets.
During the 1970s, the toxic combination of a weak dollar, high tax rates, and onerous regulations introduced a new word into America’s economic vocabulary: stagflation. Reaganomics banished this word to the history books. Now, President Obama and Fed Chairman Bernanke are teaming up to give stagflation another try. It is not likely that Americans will like it any more this time around than they did 40 years ago.
It would seem the Political class failed to learn that lesson. Welcome back, Carter.