Forex Market Commentaries - Gas Prices In The USA

Americans Are Driving Less And Flying Less, Are They Finally On The Road To Nowhere?

Feb 21 • Market Commentaries • 1240 Views • No Comments

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“So was the book better than the film?” is the often repeated question when a best selling novel is translated to the big screen. Were The Road is concerned the film is arguably not as good as the book, however, the film really is very good. I’ve recently re-watched it and if there is a sub text then it’s writ large and it’s one word; “America”.

The Road is a 2006 novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale of a journey of a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed much of civilisation and almost all life on Earth.

A never named father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a major unexplained cataclysm has destroyed civilisation and most life on Earth. The land is filled with ash and devoid of living animals and vegetation. Many of the remaining human survivors have resorted to cannibalism, scavenging the detritus of city and country alike for flesh. The boy’s mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, gave up hope and committed suicide some time before the story begins, despite the father’s pleas. Much of the book is written in the third person, with references to “the father” and “the son” or to “the man” and “the boy”.

Realising that they would not survive the oncoming winter where they are, the father takes the boy south along empty roads towards the sea, carrying their meagre possessions in their knapsacks and in a supermarket cart. The man coughs blood from time to time and eventually realises he is dying, yet still struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation…

British environmental campaigner George Monbiot was so impressed by The Road that he declared McCarthy to be one of the “50 people who could save the planet” in an article published in January 2008. Monbiot wrote;

It could be the most important environmental book ever. It is a thought experiment that imagines a world without a biosphere, and shows that everything we value depends on the ecosystem.

This nomination echoes the review Monbiot had written some months earlier for The Guardian in which he wrote;

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Two words; “carbon footprint” have disappeared from the lexicon and zeitgeist of everyday discussion over recent years. Perhaps the phrase was regarded as the ‘anti-thesis’ to growth, therefore these two words needed confining to economic room 101. You can’t have growth without the use of fossil fuels, therefore the two words were considered a “no no”. And in a country who believes in Bigfoot more than carbon footprint the lack of interest in fuel saving measures is hardly surprising.

USA citizens don’t know they’re born when you consider what they pay for petrol (gas) vis a vis a direct comparison with their European cousins. Fear is gripping the USA that the price of gas may rise to $4 a gallon..”what, are you kidding me, a gallon, they fear petrol being at four dollars a gallon?”

Four dollars buys roughly two and a half pounds. The rough metric is 4.5 litres to a gallon, in the UK the price per litre of unleaded is fast approaching 140 pence, so let’s “do the math” as they like to say ‘over there’..

A ‘gallon’ of fuel in the UK would cost 630 pence. If our USA cousins were paying the equivalent to UK inhabitants for a gallon of petrol they’d be paying circa $9.95..ouch…

Now this isn’t an article musing on the reasons for such a price discrepancy given the glaring answer is taxes. Whichever USA party hands over power from time to time through the pretence of democracy they’ll never introduce a value added tax or direct tax levy in comparison to Europe’s on domestic or industrial fuel. Not only would it be political suicide economic suicide would be instantaneous. Neither is this article about to ask the obvious question of why the USA’s insatiable lust and thirst for oil will take it on foreign crusades until the last oil states are ‘client’ states, there’s another far more interesting angle to the price of fuel and the USA which many market commentators fail to point out. Despite American having a low tax environment, despite Americans paying the equivalent of roughly half the cost of Europeans for fuel, despite their median wage being one of the highest in the developed world, they can barely afford fuel to drive, they’re on the edge..

 

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Are ‘gas’ prices causing Americans to re-think their love affair with driving?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, Americans are driving less. They drove 38.3 billion fewer miles in 2011 than in 2010, a decline of 1.4 percent. The change wasn’t quite as dramatic in the north central region of the U.S., including Ohio, which saw a decline of 0.7 percent to 53.6 billion miles.

Gas Buddy, a website that monitors gas prices and related issues, said in a blog post on Monday that this is part of a trend that has been going on since gas prices hit $4 a gallon in 2008.

Prices for WTI oil have surged past the $100 a barrel mark and “Business Insider” reports that “some oil analysts predict $4.50 a gallon or more by Memorial Day on the West Coast and major cities across the United States such as Chicago, New York and Atlanta.”

There are several factors affecting gasoline prices, since the Great Recession Americans have been driving less due to unemployment or fear of losing their jobs, those Americans still willing to spend their hard earned dollars are sliding into the seat in front of their computers rather than sliding behind the wheel of their car reports “The Wall Street Journal,” as e-commerce figures shows a 16 percent increase in online sales in the fourth quarter of 2011.

In February 2010 Americans were paying $2.50 per gallon, by May of last year gas prices had rising to $4.01 per gallon. Americans started curtailing their driving and the market responded. Gas prices steadily dropped since it reached the four buck mark and by the first day of 2012 prices had dropped to $3.10. Now prices are heading upwards, the average gas price in Atlanta (according to GasBuddy.com) at $3.56.

The average cost for regular gasoline in California has climbed past $4 a gallon, with prospects for even higher prices ahead. The recent dramatic increases nationally and statewide could hurt consumers and, in turn, the broader economy.

Hitting The Road
All across America ‘ordinary’ Americans are reporting just how expensive general day to day living is, and this in a society were thirty year mortgages are at an average of 3% and the median wage of circa $40,000 is considerably higher than Europe. If price breaches $4 dollars per gallon again and stays above this resistance point for a considerable length of time then Americans’ enduring love affair with driving could be severely tested. This in a country so vast that genuine mass rapid transport would arrive too late and would be an emergency measure, a post event after thought.

Whilst the book The Road points to an apocalyptic future for America based on what appears to be an event horizon the possibility exists that the USA may have already taken the first steps onto that road. Petrol at $5 is the rubicon for many Americans, petrol at circa $10 (the European equivalent) would bring about economic and social collapse in quick succession. The USA cannot continue to indirectly and artificially support low fuel prices by simply increasing the national debt indefinitely as a de facto subsidy.

The reality of raising taxes through fuel is not a populist ideal aimed at the one percent, but sooner rather than later ordinary Americans are going to have to face up to the tipping point, the peak oil issue. Their fuel is far too cheap and directly and indirectly many of us are paying the price.

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