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The Coming Gasoline Crisis… Get Ready For Gas Lines And Rationing !

credit: Florida Sun-Sentinel / americanphotojournalist.com

photographer: Melissa Lyttle

The first gas crisis in the United States in recent (post WW II) times was during the winter of 1972-73. The second gas shortage was during the summer of 1979. It was during that crisis that gas prices broke (at least in the Northeast U.S.) $1.00 a gallon for the first time. Those were the good old days. Fast forward to 2008, when, for many parts of the United States, gasoline is now topping $4.00 a gallon, and rising daily.

Despite the fact that we are almost 30 years down the road since the last energy crisis, we are still almost totally dependent on petroleum-based fuel. Electric, natural gas, solar, hydrogen and to a lesser extent ethanol, have failed to make a significant dent in our demand for petroleum-derived gasoline and diesel fuel.

There are still virtually no all-electric, natural gas or hydrogen vehicles on the road, with a fairly insignificant number of these alternative-fuel vehicles in some fleets, such as utility company, transit authority and delivery company vehicles. Have you ever seen an electric, hydrogen or natural gas refueling station ? Even today, for all practical purposes, gasoline and diesel are the only fuel options available. What percentage of the privately owned passenger vehicles in the U.S. are all-electric or gas-electric hybrids ?

Despite more energy-efficient homes and appliances, we continue to set energy consumption records. Electric utilities generally set new winter and summer peak output records each year. It seems that no matter how efficient our homes or cars become, no matter how hard we try to conserve energy, we will never see lower demand for energy. All we can hope to achieve is to slow the increase in energy consumption.

While the increase in total energy consumption varies by geographic region and market sector, consumption generally increases between 1 and 3% annually (see US Department of Energy report).

Now couple our ever-increasing appetite for energy with the fact that developing nations, most notably China, are significantly increasing their energy use. It portends continuing increases in the price of energy from all sources, not just oil. It also means tighter supplies and future energy shortages (see this April, 2008 AP article in the NY Times about tight oil inventories). With the summer approaching, shrinking gasoline supplies (despite higher prices), and increasing seasonal demand, it’s a recipe for trouble. They are even attributing a decrease in U.S. oil supplies to fog in the port of Huston. What’s next… blaming it on which way the wind is blowing ?

Recent world events related to shortages of food staples such as rice, wheat and corn are already being felt in the United States. While there does not appear to be a true shortage yet, the prices of all these commodity items has risen sharply in recent months. And yes, much of this increase can be tied to the price of oil.

We are seeing more and more instability, in terms of price and availability of food items. In just the past few weeks, rationing (or more accurately, purchase limits) have begun to pop up at retailers around the United States, on rice and flour. While panic buying is likely to blame to a great extent, a tight supply is no doubt at the root of these actions, as well as the sharply higher prices.

credit: freeenterpriser.com

Gasoline is subject to exactly the same market behaviors as food. To some extent, it is even more vulnerable. You can’t plant more oil seeds next Spring in anticipation of higher demand. The crude oil supply is more or less constant, at least for now. It’s a non-renewable resource, so once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

It would not take much to touch off panic buying of gasoline. A steep short-term increase in the price of crude, a new political crisis in the Middle-East, a weather-related emergency, or some unforeseen event that influences energy markets, are all capable of creating a crisis overnight.

We think that the recent run-up in gasoline prices has significantly increased the likelihood that we will see another gas crisis in the near future. This is regardless of whether there is a true shortage, or if it’s just panic buying that takes hold. Don’t be surprised to see gasoline rationing being put in place as soon as this occurs, whether it is imposed by the retailers, or by the government. Don’t be surprised to see long lines at the pumps, a la 1972.

– Routing By Rumor

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$4.00 / Gallon Gasoline Is On It’s Way. Can You Say “Fill’er Up”?

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Tom’s Shell in Madison, Wisconsin (photographed 4/25/2001)

And you think things are tough now?

Just when you thought it was safe to pull into the gas station, the experts are predicting that oil prices are going to continue their upward climb.  Oil has been closing at new record highs almost every day lately.

Actually, we think that all Americans expect to see  $4.00 $5.00/ gallon gasoline pretty soon.  Well, all except President Bush. He hasn’t been in the loop when it comes to energy prices (or most anything else, apparently). Here’s a CNN video of the February 28, 2008 press conference where Mr. Bush expresses his utter bewilderment that the experts are predicting $4.00 / gallon gas. Kinda surprising, considering that he is from an oil family, from Texas, and the leader of the free world. Then again, we don’t think Mr. Bush has had to pull any of his limos up to the pump lately. To be fair, he did say he knew “it was high”. Speaking of being high…

We think he would have been just as surprised to hear that gas has been over $3.00 / gallon for some time already. Here’s the full transcript, (where you will also find a link to video) of the entire press conference.

We know you don’t get out much these days, George. What, with the war in Iraq, and having to give orders to shoot down spy satellites and save the world from deadly hydrazine and all. But you DO surf the Web, don’t you? You do read this blog, don’t you?

We were actually hoping the spy satellite would land in our backyard. Your car gets twice as good gas mileage on hydrazine as it does on unleaded premium. We would have dragged that sucker into the garage and pumped it’s tank dry.

If high gasoline prices cause you to run out of gas when far from home, here’s one solution.

Readers can do their part. Next time you’re at the gas station, snap a picture of the gas prices, and e-mail it to the President. Unfortunately, the White House contact page lists Vice President Dick Cheney’s e-mail address, but not the President’s. Send Mr. Cheney the photo, along with a note asking him to please wake up the President and show him the e-mail. While he’s at it, perhaps Mr. Cheney can have Al Gore pay Mr. Bush a visit, and teach him how to use the Internet. After all, he did invent it.

Next time your gas gauge says “empty”, don’t bother pulling in and asking for five or ten bucks worth of gas. They’ll laugh you right out of the station. Could the $100.00 fill-up be too far off? Gas is reportedly already above $4.00/gallon in some places, such as San Francisco. Once it tops $5.00, that $100.00 fill-up could be the new reality. Can Americans afford this? What about the impact this is having on the cost of consumer goods!

The economists at RoutingByRumor predict that you’ll see gasoline break the $4.00/gallon mark this summer. And if unforeseen problems arise in the Middle East, you could see it go much higher than that. When your economic stimulus check arrives, don’t forget to take it with you to the gas station. Just think of it as President Bush’s gift to “big oil”.

If you think inflation is out of control now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. See our recent post about what the price of oil is doing to the U.S. economy.

As Esso (or was it Humble Oil) used to say, “Happy Motoring”.

Hybrid and electric vehicles are looking better all the time.

– RoutingByRumor

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Stimulus, Schmimulus ! Why The U.S. Economic Stimulus Plan Won’t Have Much Effect

They are saying that the President’s economic stimulus package might be agreed upon today. Woo Hoo. Happy days are here again.

But wait a minute… I can still hear that “giant sucking sound”,  and it’s getting louder (oh, how I wish I could have found a clip on youtube of Ross Perot coining that wonderful phrase). What will the U.S. economic stimulus plan actually accomplish? Will it lower the U.S. trade deficit or increase it? Will it lower the unemployment rate? Will it have any effect on the crumbling real estate market? We believe that the proposed U.S. economic stimulus plan will not work. It is an attempt at a quick fix. It is an ill-conceived band-aid approach to what ails the U.S. economy, proposed by an administration that does not seem to grasp the root causes responsible for the American economy being in deep, deep trouble.

What the United States needs now is something along the lines of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which put Americans to work and helped pull the country out of the Great Depression. The WPA existed between 1935 and 1943. A chicken in every pot, and two hybrid (or electric) cars in every garage wouldn’t be a bad idea either. (We’ve copyrighted that new twist on an old campaign phrase, so if Rudy, Hillary, Barack or John want to talk, you know how to reach us.) It’s quite likely that many of the government buildings and infrastructure projects in the American city or town where you live today were constructed by the WPA during that period. The WPA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal programs.

Taking the money the U.S. government is proposing to distribute as tax rebates, and putting it into a massive infrastructure improvement program would have several benefits, both immediate and long-lasting. It would…

– Provide long-term employment for millions of Americans

– Stimulate spending by reducing the unemployment rate, and giving the currently-employed higher incomes

– Repair or replace our crumbling infrastructure, particularly bridges

– Provide an infrastructure that will facilitate future economic growth

– Keep the money in America rather than giving the recipients of the rebate checks the ability to buy even more imported goods, a major reason we’re in this mess to begin with

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that every taxpayer in the United States gets a check for $1,000 (although it looks like many, if not most Americans will receive far less). Let’s say that Americans will spend every one of those checks rather than putting the money in the bank. Where will that money go?

If you’re about to loose your home to foreclosure, chances are good that that rebate check wouldn’t even allow you to make a single mortgage payment. Even if it does, that’s just postponing the inevitable for a few more weeks.

Perhaps you will take that rebate check and go on a shopping spree at Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Target. Wal-Mart is already America’s largest retailer and largest employer, but bigger is always better. If Wal-Mart grows, that means more low wage jobs for Americans. It means more Americans with little or no healthcare coverage. It means paving over more open land for new parking lots and big-box stores. It means more tough times for the few American manufacturers left, who are already being squeezed by the way Wal-Mart deals with their vendors.

About the only place you can spend that rebate check where the majority of the products are made in USA is at the grocery store. Unfortunately, for most Americans, eating is not a discretionary activity, and the amount of money you spend at the grocery checkout is unlikely to be influenced to any measurable extent by your rebate check.

Ben Bernanke will probably tell you that buying goods is exactly what you should do with your new found windfall. But wait a minute. As I’ve pointed out in this blog, and what you already know, unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few years, is that the vast majority of consumer goods you’ll find on retailer’s shelves are imported, overwhelmingly from China. In fact, we think that China will be the real winner if Americans go on a shopping spree. If you doubt this, just wait a few months and look at how our trade deficit with China increases as a result of this plan. Go to the mall and try to find clothing, shoes, toys, hardware or housewares made in USA. You won’t.

How is buying foreign goods supposed to help the U.S. economy? The U.S. national debt is being increased substantially by the stimulus plan in the first place. Buying foreign goods will only increase the trade deficit. Few American jobs will be created by this plan. That’s because we manufacture few products here any more, with the notable exception of food products, and even those are increasingly being imported.

With the cost of heating your home and filling your gas tank becoming an unaffordable luxury for many Americans, perhaps all of us should use our rebate checks to buy fuel oil or gasoline. The oil producing countries would love that more than oil itself. The American oil companies would support that too. Despite the fact that the oil companies have been raking in record profits, you can never be too rich, or too thin. On second thought, I think we will just cash our rebate check and ask the teller to give it to us in one dollar bills only. Then we’ll take the cash home, and use it as kindling in our fireplace. That’s one way to stay warm this winter, and it should reduce our heating bill slightly. Is it illegal to burn money?

About the smartest use we think you could put that rebate check to would be as a down payment on a hybrid or other low-emission or zero-emission vehicle. That would reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil, while helping the environment at the same time. The only problem is that very few low-emission vehicles, and almost no zero-emission vehicles are being manufactured today. And chances are good that your next car will be a foreign make that might not even be assembled in America anyway. So much for stimulating employment.

The biggest reason that the economic stimulus plan will not have any significant or long-lasting effect on the U.S. economy, is that it does nothing to address the two underlying causes of our economic problems; loss of jobs (particularly loss of good paying jobs) and the U.S. trade deficit. Until those issues are addressed, the administration can throw all the money they want at the problem, but it won’t go away. The deepening economic recession will turn into a depression, as sure as Winter will be followed by Spring.

I just came across a posting on the AFL-CIO’s website outlining their views regarding what a U.S. economic stimulus plan should include. Unfortunately, it looks like a couple of their suggestions which were originally announced by the President as being part of the package, have been eliminated in the final draft. Although I have never belonged to a labor union, I was struck by how many of their ideas match my thinking on the subject.

Maybe those rebate checks should come with the stipulation that they are not to be spent on food, imported goods or foreign oil, gas-guzzling vehicles, and may not be burned.

– RoutingByRumor

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