FT138: “High gas prices mean high food prices.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 5th, 2012

Fundamental Truth

We use Diesel Fuel in our Ships, Trains and Trucks to move Food from the Farm to the Grocery Store

People don’t like high gas prices.  When the price at the pump goes up more of our paycheck goes into the gas tank.  Or, more precisely, in everyone’s gas tanks.  For even if you don’t drive a car when gas prices go up you’re putting more of your paycheck into the gas tanks of others.  Thanks to oil being the lifeblood of our economy.  And unless you’re completely self-sufficient (growing your own food, making your own clothes, etc.) everything you buy consumed some petroleum oil somewhere before reaching you.

Gas prices go up for a variety of reasons.  The purely economic reason is the market forces of supply and demand.  When gas prices rise it’s because demand for gasoline is greater than the supply of gasoline.  Which means our refineries aren’t producing enough gasoline to meet demand.  And the purely economic reason for that is that they are not refining enough crude oil.  Meaning the low supply of gasoline is due to the low supply of crude oil.  Which brings us to how high gasoline prices consume more of our paychecks even if we don’t drive.  The reason being that we just don’t make gasoline out of crude oil.  We also make diesel fuel.

Diesel fuel is a remarkable refined product.  It just has so much energy in it.  And we can compress an air-fuel mixture of it to a very small volume.  Put the two together and you get a long and powerful power stroke.  Making the diesel engine the engine of choice for our heavy moving.  We use it in the ships that cross the ocean.  In the trains that cross our continents.  And in the trucks that bring everything to where we can buy them.  To the grocery stores.  The department stores.  To the restaurants.  Everything in the economy that we don’t make for ourselves travels on diesel fuel.  Which is why when gas prices go up diesel fuel prices go up.  Because of the low supply of oil going to our refineries to refine these products.

Oil is at a Disadvantage when it comes to Inflation because you just can’t Hide the Affects of Inflation in the Price of Oil

And there are other things that raise the price of gasoline.  That aren’t purely economical.  But more political.  Such as restrictions on domestic oil drilling.  Which reduces domestic supplies of crude oil.  Political opposition to new pipelines.  Which reduces Canadian supplies of crude oil.  Special ‘summer’ blends of gasoline to reduce emissions that tax a refinery’s production capacity.  As well as our pipeline distribution network.  Higher gasoline taxes.  To pay for roads and bridges.  And to battle emissions.  The ethanol mandate to use corn for fuel instead of food.  Again, to battle emissions.  All of which makes it more difficult to bring more crude oil to our refineries.  And more difficult for our refineries to make gasoline.  Which all go to adding costs into the system.  Raising the price at the pump.  Consuming more of our paychecks.  No matter who is buying it.

Then there is another factor increasing the price at the pump.  Inflation.  When the government tries to stimulate economic activity by lowering interest rates they do that by expanding the money supply.  So money is cheaper to borrow because there is so much more of it to borrow.  Hence the lower interest rates.  However, expanding the money supply also causes inflation.  And devalues the dollar.  As more dollars are now chasing the same amount of goods and services in the economy.  So it takes more of them to buy the same things they once did.  One of the harder hit commodities is oil.  Because we price oil on the world market in U.S. dollars.  So when you devalue the dollar it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil they once bought.

Oil is at a particular disadvantage when it comes to inflation.  Because you just can’t hide the affects of inflation in the price of oil.  Or the gas we make from it.  Unlike you can with laundry detergent, potato chips, cereal, candy bars, toilet paper, etc.  Where the manufacturer can reduce the packaging or portion size.  Allowing them not to raise prices to reflect the full impact inflation.  They still increase the unit price to reflect the rise in the general price level.  But by selling smaller quantities and portions their prices still look affordable.  This is a privilege the oil industry just doesn’t have.  They price crude oil by a fixed quantity (barrel).  And sell gasoline by a fixed quantity (gallon).  So they have no choice but to reflect the full impact of inflation in these prices.  Which is why there is more anger about high gas prices than almost any other commodity.

Perhaps we can lay the Greatest Blame for the Current Economic Malaise on the Government’s Inflationary Monetary Policies

Current gas prices are hitting record highs.  And this during the worse economic recovery following the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Gas prices and the unemployment rate are typically inversely related to each other.  When there is high unemployment people are buying less gasoline.  This excess gasoline supply results in lower gas prices.  When there is low unemployment people are buying more gasoline.  This excess demand for gasoline results in higher gas prices.  These are the normal affects of supply and demand.  So the current high gas prices have little to do to with normal economic forces.  Which leaves government policies to explain why gas prices are so high.

Environmental concerns have greatly increased regulatory policy.  Increasing regulatory compliance costs.  Which has greatly discouraged the building of new refineries.  And making it very difficult to build new pipelines.  Which tax current pipeline and refinery capacities.  A problem mitigated only with their restriction on domestic oil production.  The current administration has pretty much shut down oil exploration and production on all federal lands.  Reducing crude oil supplies to refineries.  These environmental policies would send gas prices soaring if the economy was booming.  But the economy is not booming.  In fact the U-6 unemployment rate (which counts everyone who can’t find a full time job) held steady at 14.7% in September.  So an overheated economy is not the reason we have high gas prices.  But the high gas prices may be part of the reason we have such high unemployment.

Perhaps we can lay the greatest blame for the current economic malaise on the government’s inflationary monetary policies.  Inflation increases prices.  Especially those things sold in fixed quantities priced in dollars.  Like oil.  And gasoline.  The price inflation in refined oil products is like a virus that spreads throughout the economy.  Because everyone uses energy.  Especially the food industry.  From the farmers driving their tractor to work their fields.  To the trucks that take grain to rail terminals.  To the trains that transport this grain to food processing plants.  To the trucks that deliver these food products to our grocery stores.  From the moment farmers first turn over their soil in spring to the truck backing into to a grocery store’s loading dock to consumers bringing home groceries in their car to put food on the table fuel is consumed everywhere.  Which is why when gasoline prices go up food prices go up.  Because we refine gasoline from the same crude oil we refine diesel fuel from.  Oil.  Creating a direct link between our energy policy and the price of food.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gas Prices Stay High along the Environmentalist West Coast due to a Lack of Refinery Capacity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2012

Week in Review

Take a look at an electoral map.  Say from the 2008 national election.  What do you see?  Blue (i.e., Democrat) on the coasts.  Red (i.e., Republican) in the middle.  And blue in the union Midwest.  Okay, now what else do you associate with the blue on the coasts?  That’s where there are high concentrations of liberals.  (The blue in the Midwest is more organized labor than liberal).  And what is one of the biggest issues with liberals?  That’s right.  The environment.  (I’ll just assume you said the environment).  Especially in California.  Where they have tougher emission standards than the federal government has. 

They take their environmentalism serious on the coasts. So much so that they punish the use of fossil fuels through high taxes and excessive regulations.  It is for these reasons you don’t see them building many new refineries in these regions.  For there are few things they hate more than petroleum oil.  From drilling it out of the ground.  To transporting it.  To refining it.  Their basic attitude towards the oil industry is, “Sure, you’re welcomed to do business here.  But you will pay.  And pay.  And pay.”  So with that in mind here’s a little story about high gas prices on the West Coast (see Unlike the East, gas prices stay stubbornly high out West by William M. Welch posted 5/18/2012 on USA Today).

“We are seeing a tale of two coasts,” says Michael Green, spokesman for AAA, which monitors pump prices. “On the West Coast, gas prices are rising steadily, while on the East Coast they are steadily decreasing.”

Oil analysts blame a refinery slowdown in western states for sending retail prices in the opposite direction of wholesale costs.

In California and Oregon, the average price of regular gas has increased 20 cents a gallon so far in May, AAA reports. Average pump prices were down 19 cents in Florida and 18 cents in Virginia…

Tupper Hull, spokesman for Western States Petroleum Association, blamed unexpected maintenance and other problems at refineries…

“Our concern is a lack of competition at the refinery level in California,” says Charles Langley, gasoline analyst at Utility Consumers’ Action Network in San Diego. “We’re not saying there’s a conspiracy. It’s just that with this few competitors, it’s very easy to game prices by turning off capacity.”

Bob van der Valk, petroleum analyst in Terry, Mont., said gasoline inventories are at a 20-year low in California for May. Supplies will return to normal, he said, but perhaps not in time for upcoming holiday travel.

The high prices on the West Coast are of their own making.  Prices have fallen on the southern half of the East Coast.  Because they aren’t as blue as they used to be.  They love their environment there.  Which is why they live there.  But they know they need petroleum oil and gasoline to live.  And they know that there is a direct correlation between anti-oil policies and the price at the pump.  Something they apparently don’t know on the West Coast.  For they hate oil.  Don’t want anything to do with oil in their state.  And yet almost everyone drives a car in California. 

If they want lower gas prices they have to make it easier to do petroleum business there.  That means they need to make it easier to refine gasoline in California.  Which means backing off on the taxes.  And the excessive environmental regulations.  They can do that.  Bring the price at the pump down.  And still have a beautiful environment.  Like they do on the southern half of the East Coast.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Drilling More will Lower Oil Prices and Lower the Price at the Pump but it won’t Win Votes on the Left

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 6th, 2012

Week in Review

Global warming alarmists and environmentalists have a friend in President Obama.  They represent a large swathe of the voting electorate.  Including some very high profile names in the entertainment industry.  Whose expertise in energy policy is nonexistent but persuasive nonetheless.  Because of an unwritten law in society.  If you sound and look good you are a de facto expert on the subject.  Which comes in very handy in making bad policy popular.  As demonstrated by the high price at the pump (see The 3 biggest benefits of producing more oil by Shawn Tully posted 5/3/2012 on Fortune CNNMoney).

President Obama argues that a campaign to substantially raise domestic crude oil production would provide miniscule benefits in lower prices and enhanced growth…

In fact, tapping the potential gusher within reach would enrich our future in three ways. First, despite the President’s declarations to the contrary, the extra output could be large enough to lower world prices by several dollars a barrel, chiefly through exploiting the enormous promise of shale oil. Second, adding to capacity would provide a sort of catastrophic insurance policy by cushioning shocks in supply that are especially damaging in the kind of tight, vulnerable market we’re experiencing today. And third, raising production means lowering our oil imports, and hence greatly improving our balance of trade. By pure GDP math, shrinking “net imports” would lift America’s growth trajectory…

Tight capacity means that almost all wells are pumping full tilt. To bring on more oil, producers that could react quickly may choose not to. A country like Saudi Arabia would need to spend lots of money uncapping old wells, and upgrading old fields, investments it’s now unwilling to make, in part from fears these high prices are temporary.

That leaves oil-hungry consumers to bid for the fixed number of barrels entering the market each day. In effect, someone commuting by car in London outbids a Chicago driver for scarce gasoline, and the Chicago driver saves by taking the train. That bidding is now driving the price far above the cost for the producer drilling the world’s most expensive oil, creating what’s called in economics a “scarcity premium.” And it’s why Exxon Mobil (XOM) and other oil giants are generating such huge profits.

How did the market reach this bind? From 2003 to 2008, demand for oil rose sharply, driven primarily by rapid industrialization in China and India. “The oil rich nations matched the rise in demand by producing more until around 2006,” says Lutz Kilian, professor of economics at the University of Michigan. “Then, production went flat, and even when demand started increasing again after the recovery began, production didn’t keep up…”

Well, there you have it.  Oil is expensive because demand is greater than supply.  So to reduce the cost of oil all we have to do is bring up supply to match or exceed demand.  And down goes the price of gasoline.  Elementary, really.  So why aren’t we doing this already? 

Because of the global warming alarmists and environmentalists who simply hate fossil fuels.  And the current president is appealing to these demographics for campaign funding.  And votes.  Neither of which he will win if he stops attacking Big Oil.  So he continues to attack Big Oil.  Buying campaign funding and votes.  All paid for by everyday Americans at the pump.  Who are cutting back everywhere in their lives to afford the high cost of gasoline the president is using as vehicle to reelection.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inflation, Prices and Wages (Real and Nominal)

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 23rd, 2012

Economics 101

Inflation is Good for those who Owe Money but Bad for Bankers 

There is a direct correlation between the amount of money in circulation and prices.  The more money the higher the prices.  The less money in circulation the lower the prices.  During the Great Depression the Federal Reserve contracted the money supply and prices fell.  And it caused havoc in the economy.  Low prices a problem?  Yes.  For some.  It was good for anyone buying anything for their money was worth more and could buy more.  But it wasn’t good for people who owed money.  Or banks.

Farmers had borrowed a lot of money to mechanize their farms in the Twenties.  So they owed the banks a lot of money.  When prices fell so did their earnings as the crops they grew sold for less at market.  Good for the consumer.  But bad for the farmer.  For with that big ‘pay cut’ they took they could not repay their loans.  They defaulted.  And when a lot of them defaulted they left banks with a lot of bad loans on the books and little cash in their vaults.  Causing bank runs and bank failures.

This is why farmers are in favor of inflation.  Increasing the amount of money in circulation.  Instead of deflation.  Decreasing the amount of money in circulation.  For when you increase the money supply prices rise.  Meaning more money for them at market.  Making it easier for them to repay their loans.  For although the money supply increased loan balances remained unchanged.  Higher earnings.  Same old debt.  Therefore easier to pay off.  Even though the value of the dollar fell.  So inflation is good for the farmer.  But bad for the banker.  Because the dollars they get back when the farmer repays his loan now buy less than they did before the inflation.

To Fully Appreciate the Impact of Inflation we must talk about Real Prices and Real Wages

Think of a grocer.  He buys from a food distributor to stock his grocery store shelves.  His distributor buys from farmers and food processing companies.  These purchases and sales happen BEFORE a consumer buys anything from a grocery store.  Now BEFORE the consumer goes shopping let’s say the Federal Reserve doubles the amount of money in circulation.  So the consumer goes shopping with a dollar worth HALF of what it was worth when the grocer stocked his shelves.  So if the grocer doesn’t raise his prices to account for this inflation he’ll be able to replace only HALF of what he sells with the proceeds from those sales.  Because his distributors will have doubled their prices to reflect the halving of the value of the dollar.

Of course doubling prices throughout the food supply chain will ultimately lower sales.  Which no one in this chain wants.  Which creates somewhat of a problem.  Especially when consumers don’t like paying higher prices.  Food processing companies will raise their prices.  But they can do something else to make it look like they’re not raising their prices that much.  They can reduce their packaging.  So boxes of cereal and bags of chips get smaller while prices increase only a little.  This lessens the perception of inflation on both consumer and seller.  At least, for those who can do this.  We sell gasoline by the gallon.  Which means they have to pass on the full impact of inflation in the price at the pump.  Which makes it look like gasoline prices are rising faster than most other prices.  Which is why consumers hate oil companies more than food companies.

The price we pay in the grocery store and at the pump are nominal prices.  Prices noted in dollars.  Nominal prices rise to factor in inflation.  But they don’t tell us the real impact of inflation.  That is, how it reduces our purchasing power.  For prices aren’t the only thing that rise.  Our wages do, too.  And if our nominal wages rise at the same rate as nominal prices do we won’t really notice a difference in our purchasing power.  If our nominal wages rise faster than nominal prices then we gain purchasing power.  If nominal prices rise faster than our nominal wages we lose purchasing power.  So to fully appreciate the impact of inflation we must talk about real prices and real wages.  Not the dollar amount on the price tag.  But the affect on our purchasing power.  In times of increasing purchasing power a single earner may be able to meet all the financial needs of a family.  In times of declining purchasing power it may take a second income to meet the financial needs of the family.  This is what we mean when we talk about real prices and real wages. 

Government causes the Erosion of Purchasing Power Always and Everywhere

You may get a large raise at work giving you a high nominal wage.  But if nominal prices are rising (as in a higher price at the gas pump) real wages are falling.  Because you can’t buy as much as you once did.  Meaning you’ve lost purchasing power.  So even though you got a nominal raise you may have taken a real pay cut.  Pretty much everyone today earns more than their father did.  Yet today we struggle to have as much as our fathers did.  Even with a second income in the family.  This is the impact of inflation.  Which causes real prices to rise.  Real wages to fall.  And our standard of living to fall.

As real prices rise and real wages fall we have to make choices.  We can’t have the same things we once did.  If we lose too much purchasing power our spouse may have to provide a second income, spending less time with his or her children.  Or people may work more overtime.  Or take a second job.  Or simply cut back on things.  And enjoy life less.  Cut out movie night.  Or going out to dinner.  Not renew their season tickets.  Or give less to charity.  This is the true cost of inflation. 

This all goes back to the amount of money in circulation.  As Milton Friedman said, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”  Meaning that only government can create inflation.  Because government controls monetary policy.  And the amount of money in circulation.  Which means government causes the erosion of purchasing power always and everywhere.  Even the price at the pump.  As oil is a global commodity priced nominally in U.S. dollars.  So whenever the Americans inflate their money supply the oil producers raise their prices to offset the devalued U.S. dollar.  So government causes much of the pain at the pump.  Whose monetary policies decrease real wages.  And increase real prices.   

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

High Gas Prices don’t Hurt as much because we have a Democrat President?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2012

Week in Review

Gas prices are getting to where they were under George W. Bush.  Or higher.  And the media, the political opposition and Hugo Chavez painted George W. Bush as the antichrist for those high prices.  Chavez literally (he said he smelled sulfur at the podium whenever he spoke after Bush).  Bush and Dick Cheney were co-antichrists as they purposely made gas expensive so they and their friends in Big Oil could profit from our misery at the gas pump.  But now it’s a different story (see Rising gas prices aren’t as bad as you think by Steve Hargreaves posted 3/21/2012 on CNN Money).

But despite rhetoric, high gas prices aren’t hurting as much as they used to.

Because, of course, the Democrats are in charge now.

This isn’t to say high gas prices don’t hurt — they do, especially for people living paycheck-to-paycheck or those that drive a lot.

But for the average American household, which has an income of over $62,000 a year, the increase in gas prices represents a relatively small portion of total spending.

Here’s where the Obama administration-friendly media is doing back-flips to report a recovering economy.  Though it’s a jobless recovery.  We’re putting people back to work without putting them back to work.  Somehow.  Because the official unemployment rate (U-3) is falling.  It fell below 9% in 2011.  And it’s still below 9%.  Recently tumbling all the way down to 8.3%.  But you can’t use the U-3 rate when you’re talking about average households earning $62,000 a year.  For no one earns $62,000 a year unless they’re working full-time.  So you have to look at the unemployment rate that counts all the people who can’t find a full-time job.  The U-6 unemployment rate.  Which currently stands at 14.9% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  A rate that is ABOVE the lowest unemployment rate during the Great Depression.  So, no, the average American household is not earning $62,000 at the moment.  Unless those working part-time jobs are working 2-3 part-time jobs to make up for the lost income of those who have simply given up looking for a full-time job because they can’t find one (people the U-3 rate excludes in its count of the unemployed).

“It seems like people are still getting out there and opening up their pocketbooks,” said Beth Ann Bovino, deputy chief economist at Standard and Poor’s.

Bovino thinks prices would have to reach between $4.50 and $5 a gallon to really see an impact in spending.

Part of the reason Americans are coping with higher gas prices is that oil makes up a smaller percentage of overall energy use, she said.

Oil made up 48% of the nation’s energy consumption in 1971, S&P noted in a recent report. Now, thanks to a shift to cheaper natural gas and coal, oil accounts for just 40%.

If gas prices were $4.50 and $5 a gallon while Bush was still in office there would be no calm rationale given.  The people would have gotten the pitchforks out.  Burned Bush and Chaney in effigy.  Ridiculed them on late-night comedy TV.  And in the mainstream media.  For not doing anything to lower prices.  And for purposely raising prices so they, Bush and Chaney, could reap profits along with their friends in Big Oil.  But President Obama gets a pass.  For with him the line is that there’s nothing the president can do about gasoline prices.

They go back to 1971 to find something positive to say.  That in about 40 years we reduced our consumption of oil from 48% to 40%.  But what was the change between 2008 and 2012?  Have we reduced our energy consumption so much that when it takes over $50 to fill the average American fuel tank that we can whistle a happy tune?  Because though these prices are high they are at least not $4.50 to $5.00 high?  And that we must be consuming less oil someplace else?  Funny, for that’s not what these high prices are saying.  They say we’re consuming so much oil that our demand is outpacing supply.  Which causes prices to rise.  Even the president has said we must break our addiction to foreign oil.  That is not a lessening demand no matter how you look at it.

The price of oil is rising because our demand for it is outpacing our supply of it.  Increasing the price at the pump.  Forcing us to cut back elsewhere to put more of our paycheck into the gas tank.  And unless you like giving up things in life you enjoy and would prefer to have but can’t because of the price at the pump then these high prices hurt.  They hurt the economy.  And the family budget.  And saying otherwise is insulting to those who are giving up the things they enjoy to put more of their paycheck into the gas tank.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FT110: “You can’t blame our dependence on foreign oil for high gas prices AND say that producing more domestic oil won’t lower gas prices.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

The Combination of Low Demand and High Supply caused Oil Prices to Fall over 70% by 1986

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a cartel.  Made up currently of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.  Their purpose is to set oil quotas for their oil-producing members.  To limit the amount of oil they bring to market.  To reduce supply.  And increase oil prices.  At least that’s the idea.  It’s been hard to keep the individual OPEC members from cheating, though.  And a lot do.  Often selling more than their quota.  Because when oil prices are high selling a few percentages above their quota can be very profitable.  Unless everyone else does so as well.  Which they usually do.  For their choice is either not to cheat and not share in any of those ‘excess’ profits (beyond their agreed to quota).  Or cheat, too.  Thereby increasing supply.  And lowering oil prices.  Not something any oil producer wants to do.  But it’s the only way to share in any of those ‘excess’ profits.

But that’s not the only problem OPEC has.  There are a lot of oil producers who aren’t members of OPEC.  Who can bring oil to market in any quantity they choose.  Especially when they see the high price OPEC is charging.  OPEC’s high price allows non-OPEC suppliers to sell a lot of oil at a slightly lower price and reap huge profits.  Which puts pressure on the OPEC target price.  Forcing them to lower their target price.  For if they don’t lower their price they will lose oil sales to those non-OPEC producers.  Which is exactly what happened in the late Seventies.  While OPEC was cutting back on production (to raise prices) the non-OPEC nations were increasing production.  And taking over market share with their lower prices.  Causing OPEC to reverse policy and increase production during the mid-Eighties.  Giving us the 1980s oil glut.

Of course, this rise in non-OPEC production was a direct result of the 1973 Oil Crisis.  Many of the OPEC members are Muslim nations.  Who don’t like the state of Israel.  In response to the West’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War (1973) OPEC announced an oil embargo on those nations who helped Israel.  Giving us the 1973 oil crisis.  Where this sudden reduction in supply caused the price of oil to soar.  Making the oil business a very profitable business.  Causing those non-OPEC producers to enter the market.  Then the Iranian Revolution (1979) disrupted Iranian crude production.  Keeping Iranian oil off the market.  This reduction in demand caused oil prices to rise.  Then Jimmy Carter broke off diplomatic relations with the Iranian state.  And boycotted their oil when it returned to the market.  Further encouraging the non-OPEC producers to bring more oil to market.  Meanwhile U.S. demand fell because of those high prices.  And our switch to smaller, 4-cyclinder, front wheel drive cars.  Saying goodbye to our beloved muscle cars of the Sixties and Seventies.  And the V-8 engine.  The combination of low demand and high supply caused oil prices to fall over 70% by 1986.  Giving us the oil glut of the 1980s.  When gasoline was cheap.  Enticing the V-8 engine back into the market.

Improved Fuel Economy AND Increased Oil Supplies can Reduce the Price at the Pump

So, yes, Virginia.  The amount of oil entering the market matters.  The more of it there is the cheaper it will be.  As history has shown.  When less oil entered the market prices rose.  When more oil entered the market prices fell.  And anything that can affect the supply of oil making it to market will affect the price of oil.  (And everything downstream of oil.  Jet fuel.  Diesel.  And gasoline.)  Wars.  Regional instability.  And governmental regulation. 

So what are things that will bring more oil to market?  Well there’s the obvious.  You drill for more oil.  This is so obvious but a lot of people refuse to accept this economic principle.  As supply increases prices fall.  The 1980s oil glut proved this.  Even John Maynard Keynes has graphs showing this in his Keynesian economics.  The economics of choice for governments everywhere.   Yet there are Keynesian politicians who avert their eyes to this economic principle.  So there’s that.  More drilling.  You can also make the permitting process easier to drill for oil.  You can open up federal lands currently closed to drilling.  And once you find oil you bring it to market.  As quickly as you can.  And few things are quicker than pipelines.  From the oil fields.  To the oil refineries.  (And then jet fuel, diesel and gasoline pipelines from the refineries to dispensing centers).  So before oil fields are ready to produce you start building pipelines from those fields to the refineries.  Or you build new refineries.

Improving fuel economy did help reduce our demand for imported oil in the Eighties.  As well as lowered the price for that imported oil.  But it wasn’t fuel economy alone.  The non-OPEC nations were increasing production from the mid-Seventies through the mid-Eighties.  Without that oil flooding the market oil prices wouldn’t have fallen 70%.  And they won’t fall again if we ONLY try to reduce our demand for foreign oil.  For reducing demand is marginal at best in reducing oil prices. 

Only if we Drill and Build Pipelines can we Reduce the Price at the Pump

For there are no electric airplanes.  The cost to electrify all railroad tracks is too prohibitive to consider.  The capital costs to build that electrical infrastructure.  The maintenance costs to maintain it.  And the electricity costs from the increased demand for electrical power while supply remains the same.  Or falls.  Because excessive regulation inhibits the building of new power plants.  And speeds up the shutdown of older plants.  Especially coal-fired because they pollute too much.  And hydro power.  Because of the environmental impact of dams.  Severely straining our electric grids.  And moving into electric cars will stress our electric grids even further.  Leading to brown outs.  And rolling blackouts.   Or worse.  Causing wires to overheat and sag, coming into contact with trees.  Shorting out.  Causing cascading blackouts as power plants disconnect from the grid to prevent damage from the resulting current surges.  Like they did in the Northeast Blackout of 2003.

You can’t replace oil with electricity.  In some cases there is just no electric equivalent.  Such as the airplane.  Or the cost of moving from oil to electricity is just prohibitive.  Such as updating the nation’s electrical infrastructure to meet an exploding demand.  Which leaves oil.  We need it.  And will keep using it.  Because there is no better alternative.  Yet.  So we need to produce it.  And do everything we can to help bring that oil to market.  Not fight against it.  And it all starts with drilling. 

We must drill.  Bring that oil up from under the ground.  Put it into a pipeline.  And pump it to a refinery.  If we do this enough we will be less dependent on foreign oil.  And have more control over the price at the pump.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s a Direct Link between the Type of Crude refined and the Price at the Pump

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2012

Week in Review

Oil is not oil.  There is Brent sweet crude.  And West Texas Intermediate (WTI).  We import the Brent.  While a lot of the WTI comes from wells closer to home.  The U.S.  Canada.  The Gulf of Mexico.  And there is a correlation between gas prices and the type of crude (see Angry About High Gas Prices? Blame Shuttered Oil Refineries by Matthew Philips posted 5/24/2012 on Yahoo! Finance).

The U.S. refining industry is being split in two. On one hand are the older refineries, mostly on the East and Gulf Coasts, that are set up to handle only the higher quality Brent “sweet” crude—the stuff that comes from the Middle East and the North Sea. Brent is easier to refine, though it’s gotten considerably more expensive recently. (Certainly another reason for higher gas prices.)

Then there are the plants able to refine the heavier, dirtier West Texas Intermediate (WTI)—the stuff that comes from Canadian tar sands, the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, and the newer outposts in North Dakota, which just passed Ecuador in oil production. These refineries tend to be clustered in the Midwest—places such as Oklahoma, Kansas, and outside Chicago. While the price of Brent crude has closed at over $120 a barrel in recent days, WTI is trading at closer to $106. That simple differential is the reason older refineries that can handle only Brent are hemorrhaging cash and shutting down, while refineries that can handle WTI are flourishing.

“The U.S. refining industry is undergoing a huge, regional transformation,” says Ben Brockwell, a director at Oil Price Information Services. “If you look at refinery utilization rates in the Midwest and Great Lakes areas, they’re running at close to 95 percent capacity, and on the East Coast it’s more like 60 percent,” he says.

How about that?  Economic reasons for the high price of gasoline.  The cost of Brent sweet crude makes it impossible to sell in America at a profit.  So the refineries are selling it overseas at prices that can keep them from operating at a loss.  Or they’re shutting down refineries.  To reduce the surplus of gas they can’t sell at a profit.  Making the gas stations supplied by these refineries sell at record high gas prices.  Whereas those stations supplied by the WTI refineries are able to sell gas at more affordable prices.

The lesson here?  The amount of oil brought to market matters.  The more the oil supplied the lower the price.  And the lower the price of gasoline made from that oil.  There’s not much we can do about the price of Brent sweet but there is something we can do about WTI.  Drill more.  Build more refinery capacity for it.  And build more pipelines to move that precious cargo all over the United States.  Creating lots and lots of jobs.  And letting people enjoy hitting the highway again in cars they like that may also happen to be gas guzzlers.  Which will also reduce the price at the pump.  Because demand for gasoline will rise to sustain this economic buildup.  Allowing prices to fall due to economies of scale.

And it’s all there for the taking.  All we have to do is to take this future.  Instead of the one we’re working on now where driving has become a four-letter word.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Falling Oil Prices will lower Gas Prices, if the Fed stops Printing Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 9th, 2011

Falling Oil Prices and you at the Gas Pump

Here’s something you don’t see every day.  Oil prices have fallen (see Special report: What really triggered oil’s greatest rout by Matthew Goldstein, Svea Herbst, Jennifer Ablan, Emma Farge, David Sheppard, Claire Milhench, Zaida Espana, Robert Campbell and Josh Schneyer posted 5/9/2011 on Reuters).

Never before had crude oil plummeted so deeply during the course of a day. At one point, prices were off by nearly $13 a barrel, dipping below $110 a barrel for the first time since March.

Apparently the speculators aren’t all that eager to buy and hold oil right now.  Something must have spooked them.  Because it’s May and the summer driving season is about to ramp up.  People driving around to enjoy their summers.  Some 3-day holiday weekends.  And a vacation or too.  Demand for oil should be up.  Not down.  So what happened?

A routine report on U.S. weekly claims for unemployment benefits spooked investors, showing the labor market in worse shape than expected. That fed a growing pessimism about the resilience of the global economy after industrial orders slumped in Germany and the massive U.S. and European service sectors slowed. Then the European Central Bank surprised with a more dovish statement on interest rates than expected, signaling its wariness about the euro zone outlook. The dollar rose sharply.

Oh.  So that’s what spooked them.  Recession.  Which is another name for continued high unemployment.  Looks like people will be taking more ‘staycations‘ this year.  Just like last year.  Which means people won’t be gassing up the family car for those long trips.  Instead of gas they’ll be buying more expensive groceries.  So the speculators don’t want to buy oil.  Demand for oil will drop.  And something with low demand has a low price.

A range of factors, both economic and political, were also at play. The recent rise in raw goods has been fueled in part by the U.S. Fed pumping cash into the markets by purchasing $600 billion in bonds. This program has pushed interest rates extraordinarily low, making borrowing essentially free once adjusted for inflation. Investors have been using the super-cheap money to buy into commodity markets. But the Fed’s program is slated to end on June 30.

The U.S. Fed in their infinite wisdom printed more money to entice business owners to expand business and hire more people.  Unfortunately, this also created inflation.  Made our money worth less.  And this raised prices.  So we bought less.  And if we’re buying less, businesses aren’t going to expand.  They’re going to contract.  To reflect the falling consumer demand.  So where did all that printed money go?  Wall Street.  Investors borrowed the money ‘for free’ and invested in commodities.  Which drove the prices up.  And oil is a commodity.  Now that the Fed is shutting off the ‘free money’ spigot, they’re not buying anymore.  They’re selling.  Hence the fall in oil prices.

China, the world’s fastest-growing consumer of commodities, also is tightening monetary policy to tamp growth rates and control inflation, raising the prospect of a slowdown in demand for oil.

And one of the big things that triggered the huge run up in oil prices back in 2008, an explosion of Chinese demand, is reversing itself.  They are trying to control inflation.  By slowing their economic growth.  And, of course, slower growth requires less energy.  And less gasoline for cars.

Put all of this together and it explains why oil prices are falling.  Which is typically what happens in a recession.

Recession and Tight Monetary Policy always lowers Gas Prices

The greatest factor in the cost of gasoline is the cost of oil.  Oil goes up and gas soon follows.  Oil goes down and gas follows.  Eventually (see Just say no to $5 gasoline by Myra P. Saefong posted 5/6/2011 on MarketWatch).

Despite Thursday’s drop, crude futures are still more than 9% higher, year to date. Crude oil makes up 68% of the price of gasoline at the pump, according to the EIA.

Overall weakness in the dollar is also to blame for rising gasoline prices. “The U.S. dollar has an inflationary impact on U.S. buyers, while also triggering increased buying in equities and commodities to stave off lost currency value,” said Telvent DTN’s Milne.

And there’s an “overlap” between refinery maintenance and a cluster of bad luck for Gulf Coast and Midwestern refineries, including electrical outages and storm-induced shutdowns, said Kloza. “This is the catalyst for the last leg [of the gasoline-price rise], which may take us to $4-$4.11, but also should soon stall.”

So we’re not going to see a corresponding fall in gasoline prices right away.  But it’s coming.

Still, gasoline prices may hold a $5 average in California, where a strict gasoline formula makes the state more susceptible to higher prices, and in New York, due to tax issues, he said.

Of course, there’s always concern over the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins on June 1, given the potential for disruptions to oil production and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Be grateful you don’t live in California or New York.  At least, when you’re buying gas.  The environmentalists have added about $1 a gallon to the price of gas in California.  And New York is just tax-happy.  Add that to the recent storm damage, heavy rains and Mississippi flooding, prices won’t be coming down anytime soon.  But they’ll be coming down.  Because they always do during a recession.  As long as the Fed stops printing money (which was President Carter‘s problem.  Prices stayed stubbornly high in the Seventies despite recession until Paul Volcker finally tightened monetary policy).

Drill Baby Drill

Supply and demand determines the price at the pump.  That’s why prices go up during the summer driving season.  And down when much of the world is shoveling snow.  Oil is the biggest factor in the price of gas (68%).  Therefore, the less oil on the market the higher gas prices go.  And the more oil on the market the lower gas prices go.  Simple supply and demand.  Which provides a very easy solution to bring gas prices down.  Drill, baby, drill.  The next best thing we could do to keep prices down is to increase refinery capacity.  The more capacities available to refine crude oil the less storm damage will affect the price at the pump.  Finally, roll back environmental regulations and cut taxes.  Californians could easily see a drop of a dollar a gallon.  Even with current oil production and refining capacities.

Energy policy can be very easy if only you can separate the politics from it.  But when your political base is defined by those politics, that ain’t going to happen.  So get use to high gas prices.  Because they’re being kept artificially high for political reasons.  And enjoy your staycation this year.  And next year.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,