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Record energy prices and your wallet
Experts see relief from high oil and gas prices coming around the corner, is it soon enough?
August 11, 2005: 1:36 PM EDT
By David Ellis, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Gas, crude oil and heating oil prices may have set record levels for the second consecutive day Thursday, but consumers might not be in as bad a shape as they think.

The national retail average for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline reached a record all-time high Thursday of $2.397, according to travel club AAA's daily fuel gauge report, which has tracked gas prices nationwide since the 1970s. Oil prices reached historic levels again Thursday, rising $1.10 to hit a record high of $66 a barrel.

Heating oil futures also posted a record Thursday morning jumping 6.42 cents to $1.903 a gallon amid refinery glitches that could affect production.

While high oil and gasoline prices reduce the average American's purchasing power, Thorsten Fischer, a senior economist at who covers the energy industry says the economy is nevertheless showing signs of strength

"The effect is small for one major reason - the economy is healthy," said Fischer, pointing at healthy growth in the job and home markets, as well as historically low long-term interest rates. "All that has helped consumers that is why we are not really seeing a sharp response."

But Fischer says that all Americans are not insulated from the rising costs of energy. American homes currently spend three percent of their household income on gasoline and home heating expenses, says Fischer. When energy prices go up however, he says it is lower income families that get hit the hardest, spending as much as six percent of their budget to drive their car to work or heat their homes.

Energy analysts say the recent jump in the price of oil and gas has been due to a combination of factors - geopolitical instability in Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the recent closure of several domestic and international refineries. The lingering effects of the recent tropical storms have not helped either, delaying fuel shipments and hurting consumers at the pump.

This surge in energy prices, however, is not unusual at this time of year according to Bill O'Grady, the assistant director of market analysis for A.G. Edwards.

"At this time of year it's normal to see refinery outages and it invariably spooks the market when it happens," he said.

That's not to say though that prices won't continue going up or demand will slow down.

A report released Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that the demand for gas has increased over the past year, climbing 1.4 percent. Over the last four weeks, gasoline demand has averaged nearly 9.5 million barrels per day.

Both O'Grady and Fischer say they would not be surprised if the price of crude oil breaches the $70 or even $80 mark, since the price of crude and gasoline are closely correlated.

But both warned not to expect a drop in pump prices until after Labor Day, or when the driving season ends. Almost too little too late, says O'Grady.

"You will get relief when you don't care if you get relief."


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