Oh boy, just when we thought we were out of the woods, high oil prices are pulling us back in again.
Oil prices skyrocketed by $7 a barrel today to $135 a barrel, gathering even more momentum after Thursday's big bump-up, and that, unfortunately, is the good news. A new report from a key Morgan Stanley analyst predicted prices could hit $150 by the Fourth of July.
If you don't think that rising oil and energy prices don't impact technology companies, you're mistaken. Technology companies rely on the normally-reliable U.S. consumer to ride them out of recessions. But with $150 a-barrel oil on the way, and gas prices already at $4 per gallon, the calvary just isn't coming.
John Schoen, a senior producer and economics writer at MSNBC, aptly sums up the way that the U.S. consumer sector is taking on water or oil - with a post this week:
"The biggest concern (of rising oil prices) is the potential impact on consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity," he writes. "Consumers have already been hit by the slump in housing prices — eliminating the equity "piggy bank" that many homeowners tapped as prices were rising. Home prices fell 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared with last year, according to data released Thursday by the government’s Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight."
Adds Schoen, "Rising gasoline prices are one more burden on consumers. Economists estimate that every additional penny at the pump takes roughly $1 billion out of overall spending. Taxpayers getting rebate checks designed to revive spending and get the economy moving again have already spent much of that bonus to gas up their vehicles."
Oil prices had already jumped $5.37 on Thursday, so Friday's $7 run-up is going to leave a bruise. Further stoking oil fears is that report from Morgan Stanley analyst Ole Slorer, who wrote that he expected strong demand in Asia that could drive prices to $150 by July 4. Slorer pretty much blames increased demand from the Asia tigers for the oil mess, although in a free market, you can't blame two of oil's biggest customers. But Asia is starting to become the oil hog that the U.S. has historically been. "Asia is taking an unprecedented share" of Middle East exports to build up stocks, Slorer wrote in his report.
It won't get any easier for technology companies paying higher costs to ship goods and run plants, and who may be facing an outright consumer blackout this summer. Discretionary spending is down and forecasters are downright dour about the summer travel season, with the price of premium gasoline at $4.15 a gallon and the price of regular gasoline at $3.75 per gallon, according to a report this week from the American Automobile Association. That’s going to force many Americans to cut back on travel and vacation expenses, and cause them to spend less on non-essential items.
Like computers and iPhones. Brace yourself, if oil does go to $150 a barrel, 5.5% unemployment is going to look real good.