• E-mail Terry Keenan
Have you noticed the price of gasoline lately? I'm sure you have. Nationwide it's averaging about $3 a gallon. Are you complaining? Probably not — at least not as much as when the $3 level breached two summers ago.
Perhaps we're just all getting used to it. Just like $4 lattes, $500,000 Manhattan studio apartments and $30 restaurant entrees, the sticker-shock has worn off — at least for now.
But that could change by late summer, with prices at the pump pushing closer to the $4 a gallon level — especially if current trends in the crude market accelerate. At more than $72 a barrel, crude prices are already up more than 40 percent from their lows earlier this year, and within striking distance of their 2005 post-Katrina highs of $78. All this, and we haven't even seen the first major hurricane of the season.
Yet unlike the last price gusher in the summer of 2005, this time there is an eerie calm on Wall Street. No Goldman Sachs analysts coming out with dire predictions about $100 oil, no T. Boone Pickens preening about his oil-stock picks. And unlike two years ago when the Dow fell about 500 points in tandem with the record-run in oil prices, this summer there are virtually no Cassandras when it comes to the relentless rise in the price of black gold.
But beyond Broad and Wall Streets, there are troubling signs that the double whammy of falling home values and sky-high energy costs is making for a lean summer for Americans with little disposable income left to spend at the malls. As Fred Hickey reports in the latest edition of High Tech Strategist, June retail sales due out next week are likely to show surprising softness. Even Target has lowered its expectations. This on the heels reports that U.S. auto sales fell into the abyss last month — down more than 20 percent at GM, off 8 percent at Ford.
When it comes to dining out this summer, the numbers are just as jarring. From Wendy's to Red Lobster, most major restaurant chains are seeing their customer counts fall over a year ago — as U.S. consumers cutback. On Tuesday, Home Depot and Sears Holdings rattled Wall Street with their worse-than-expected sales reports.
Of course Wall Street has deftly climbed a wall of worry all year — shrugging off the meltdown in sub-prime mortgages, the implosion of two Bear Stearns hedge funds and even the troubling terror news out of Great Britain. No, this market seems to want to go up — and it has happily discounted news that usually brings the sellers out in droves. The worry now is the lack of worry when it comes to the very real prospect of $80 or $90 a barrel oil.
Terry Keenan is anchor of Cashin’ In and is a FOX News Channel business correspondent. Tune in to Cashin' In on Saturdays at 11:30am and find out what you need to know to make your money grow and keep what you already have!