The New York Times: Gas Prices Expected to Peak in June
Oil jumped to another record on Tuesday, and the government said it expected gasoline prices to peak at a national average of $3.73 a gallon in June, just as the summer driving season kicks off.
The new forecast from the Energy Department came on a day oil futures rose above $122 a barrel in New York trading after rebels in Nigeria renewed their attacks against oil installations. By days end, crude oil for June delivery closed at a record $121.84 a barrel, up 1.6 percent from Mondays close.
Oil prices have nearly doubled in a year. Gasoline is selling for a national average of about $3.61 a gallon, according to AAA, the automobile club, a penny less than the record set on May 1 but 58 cents higher than a year ago.
Some private analysts have gone beyond the Energy Departments forecasts, predicting that gasoline will surpass $4 a gallon this summer.
Domestic gasoline consumption is likely to fall more steeply than expected this year, the Energy Department said, an indication that higher prices are cutting into the driving habits of many Americans. But gasoline prices are expected to rise nonetheless and should average $3.52 a gallon for the full year, or 71 cents above their average price in 2007, according to the governments latest estimates.
In the past, high prices could be offset by borrowing or making more money, said Adam Robinson, an analyst at Lehman Brothers. Its really when you have the triple bite a weaker economy, less access to credit, and higher prices that you see the consumer recoil.
The high cost of fuel has become a major issue in the presidential race, with the Democratic candidates, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, clashing over a summer waiver of the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax.
The gas tax holiday is supported by Senator Clinton and the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, who have both said it would provide some relief in the summer driving season. Senator Obama calls the idea pandering and said that cutting the tax would spur more consumption, pushing prices back up.
In its monthly report, the Energy Department projected that domestic petroleum consumption would decline by about 190,000 barrels a day this year, a result of the economic slowdown and high prices. That is a sharper drop than the 90,000-barrel-a-day decline projected by the department last month.
After accounting for increased ethanol use, domestic consumption will fall by 330,000 barrels a day, or less than 1 percent of total gasoline demand. While limited, it would be the first annual decline in gasoline demand since 1991.
The Energy Department expects oil prices to average $110 a barrel this year, about $9 more than its previous outlook.
Despite these higher costs, global oil demand is still projected to rise by 1.2 million barrels a day this year, mostly because of growing consumption in China, the Middle East, Russia, Brazil and India.
China alone will account for a third of the jump in consumption. In March, Chinese imports rose by 800,000 barrels a day, compared with levels a year earlier, a big increase that could mean China is filling its oil reserve needs before the start of the Olympic Games this summer.
Oil supplies, meanwhile, continue to lag behind. After a drop in Nigerian output last month, production by OPEC nations fell 1 percent in April, according to a survey by Bloomberg News.
Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pumped an average of 32.1 million barrels a day last month, down 320,000 barrels from March, according to the survey of oil companies, producers and analysts.
Nigerian production dropped by 160,000 barrels, to an average of 1.88 million barrels a day, the countrys lowest level since August 1999. The countrys output suffered from a strike by Exxon Mobil workers. Adding to these troubles, rebel militants have apparently resumed their attacks on oil companies in the Niger Delta, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to reduce production.
As demand continues to outpace the growth in oil supplies, analysts expect little relief in prices. A shortfall in supplies over the next two years will probably send oil to $150 to $200 a barrel, Goldman Sachs said in a new report.
Analysts forecasts for the price of gasoline over the next few years run as high as $7 a gallon.