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Hamilton: Wait a Week or Two to Get Gasoline

Professor James Hamilton has a nice post up on his site regarding the near-term trends in gasoline prices and what’s coming down the line.   As you likely know by now, oil prices and thus gasoline prices have taken a serious dive in recent weeks and the implications could be important for economic growth.  But he’s not all that optimistic about the effects on growth.   The good news, on the other hand, is that Hamilton says you can probably save a few bucks in the coming weeks if you wait to buy gasoline:

“With Brent on Friday at $91.50 and an average retail gasoline price about $3.47, we’d thus expect gasoline prices to come down another 35 cents a gallon or so from where they were on Friday. Historically those adjustments usually come pretty quickly. For example, last December U.S. gasoline prices temporarily fell about 25 cents/gallon below the long-run relation, but by March they were right back on track.

If gasoline prices do fall from their value in April near $3.92 to $3.12, that would be an 80 cents/gallon swing. With Americans buying about 140 billion gallons of gasoline each year, that translates into an extra $112 billion over the course of a year that consumers would have available to spend on other things besides gasoline.

So should we be celebrating? I’m afraid not. The primary reason that oil prices have come down is because of growing signs of weakness in the world economy. I am very concerned about where events in Europe are going to lead, and recent U.S. data indicate some weakening. Cheap gas helps, but not so much if you don’t have a job.

But I will offer this advice: wait another week or two if you can before filling up the tank.”

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