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Gasoline Is Expensive; Deal with It
The White House announced it was getting into the commodities game in an effort to protect consumers from some of the geopolitical factors spilling over into the retail gasoline market. OPEC and the IEA both said in their monthly reports that market perceptions were behind higher energy prices, not physical shortages.
With most U.S. consumers still economically gun-shy, gasoline consumption is down amid high retail prices. But on the business side, protection against potential oil shocks in the long-term could help push a reinvigorated U.S. economy over the recessionary hump. Apart from the murky waters of economic nuance, however, President Obama said that, no matter what, American commuters need gasoline. Speculation aside, maybe that's the problem.
High gasoline prices make for angry constituents. That means politicians, especially politicians fighting to keep their paychecks, start pointing their legislative guns at Wall Street almost as soon as the gavel strikes. Market indices don't particularly care one way or the other if consumers and lawmakers are frustrated, but they are concerned nonetheless.
U.S. lawmakers in March complained to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that nobody was watching energy markets closely because perceptions are trumping real-world scenarios. Demand is down and supplies are up, which typically means prices drop. But not so fast, the critics say. Someone must be cheating.
Energy wonks note, correctly, that hedging your energy bets is a good way to protect against future shocks. Imagine how much plane tickets would cost if the airline industry practiced a just-in-time policy for its fuel needs. The same would likely hold for refineries and oil producers. But that doesn't mean much for the average consumer when gasoline prices can increase as much as 10 percent overnight because Iran's Press TV ran a false report about a Saudi pipeline explosion, or U.S. refineries closed for maintenance, or the weather suddenly turned colder, or any of the other reasons cited for volatility in consumer gasoline prices.