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Over the past several days, we’ve seen several arguments for why surging gasoline prices won’t harm the economy.They range from:
- We have more domestic production these days.
- Other commodities aren’t surging, so the inflationary effects are more narrow.
- Plummeting Natural gas prices are saving people a ton of heating, offsetting gas.
- Gas prices aren’t surging at a fast enough clip to freak consumers out.
And so on…
On the other hand, there seems to be a good history of gas prices harming the economy, and all of the above counter-arguments have a certain it’s different this time feel to them.
The pseudonymous blogger New Deal Democrat has a great post looking at what he calls the current “duel” between initial claims, which are falling, and gas prices. He notes that the same duel took place in 2011, and that ultimately, gas prices choked off the recovery, preventing it from really gathering momentum.
So how to know that gas prices are winning this time?
Last year I concluded my column by saying that I expected Oil to win its duel with initial jobless claims. It did as initial claims flattened and then rose in the summer. I expect the same result this year. While as I said yesterday I expect U-3 unemployment to decline to under 8% by May, that is a lagging indicator. Consumers are better able to handle $4 a gallon gasoline than they were in 2008, but depleted most of their savings since then last year. If an Oil shock is going to bring on more than a stall this spring and summer, watch the weekly same store retail sales comparisons. They held up well all last year. If their YoY readings start going under +2%, that will be a danger sign. If consumers also retrench further than they already have in terms of gasoline usage, i.e., a one week YoY usage decline of more than 10%, or a 4 week YoY decline of more than 7.5%, that would be another strong danger signal.
Here’s the good news: At least there is a duel.
In 2006-2007, all the economic indicators were turning south at the same time gas prices were surging, meaning everything was clocking the economy at the same time.
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