Higher gas prices could hurt consumer spending and curtail the recent improvement in the U.S. economy.
A 25-cent jump in gasoline prices, if sustained over a year, would cost the economy about $35 billion. That’s only 0.2 percent of the total U.S. economy, but economists say it’s a meaningful amount, especially at a time when growth is only so-so. The economy grew 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter, a rate considered modest following a recession.
High oil and gas prices now set the stage for even sharper increases at the pump because gas typically rises in March and April.
Every spring, refiners suspend operations to switch the type of gasoline they make. Supplies of wintertime gas are sold off before March, when refineries need to start making a new formula of gasoline that’s required in the summer.
That can mean less supply for service stations, resulting in higher gas prices. And summertime gasoline is more expensive to make. The government mandates that it contain less butane and other cheap organic compounds because they contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a primary constituent in smog. That means more oil, a costlier component, is needed to produce each gallon.
The Oil Price Information Service predicts that gasoline could peak at $4.25 a gallon by the end of April. That would top the record of $4.11 in July 2008.
The national average for gasoline began the year at $3.28 a gallon. The average price for February so far is $3.49 a gallon. That’s up from $3.17 a gallon last February, a record at the time. Back in 2007, before the recession hit, the average for February was $2.25 a gallon.
Gas just broke the $4 USD per gallon threshold near the compound. If prices hit $5 USD per gallon it will be interesting to watch what the impact will be.