Oil is once again trading above $100 per barrel, bringing with it estimates that U.S. gas will cost more than $4 per gallon by May, if not sooner. The Obama administration is already bracing for higher gas prices and the political cost that they could exact.
But it isn’t increasing demand for oil that is driving the recent price increase. In fact, demand is the lowest it’s been since April, 1997, according to the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). Instead, OPIS points to speculators as the party responsible for driving up prices:
Strangely, the current run-up in prices comes despite sinking demand in the U.S. “Petrol demand is as low as it’s been since April 1997,” says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “People are properly puzzled by the fact that we’re using less gas than we have in years, yet we’re paying more.”
Kloza believes much of the increase is due to speculative money that’s flowed into gasoline futures contracts since the beginning of the year, mostly from hedge funds and large money managers. “We’ve seen about $11 billion of speculative money come in on the long side of gas futures,” he says. “Each of the last three weeks we’ve seen a record net long position being taken.”
A multitude of experts, from academics to government agencies, have pinned the 2008 gas price spike on oil speculators. Of course, a big increase in gas prices could doom the slow but steady economic recovery.