Oil prices spiked to another all-time (intraday) high on Friday, as the Federal Reserve pumped more money into the economy and the U.S. dollar resumed its decline against other major world currencies.
Although members of Congress continue to blame OPEC for not supplying enough oil to the market, the chart below clearly illustrates that the available supply of oil has been more than enough to meet demand over the past few months.
My research indicates that the real culprits behind the surge in oil prices from $87.65 per barrel on Jan. 23 to over $126 per barrel on Friday, May 16, have been (1) an increase in speculation by commodity traders and (2) the dramatic decline in the value of the U.S. dollar. If you’re looking to blame someone for the surge in petroleum prices, you should therefore blame our esteemed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, rather than Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC.
Although analysts at Goldman Sachs stated that they expect the price of crude oil to rise to $141 per barrel in the second half of 2008, my research suggests that the ongoing slowdown in the U.S. economy and the recent stabilization in the exchange value of the dollar will cause oil prices to fall significantly over the next couple of months.
However, I expect food costs to continue to rise in the months ahead as a result of the rising incomes of consumers throughout many regions of the world. As I mentioned in the September 2007 issue of The ETF Strategist, consumers tend to improve their diets when their incomes rise. Recent statistics have shown that consumers in China and India, by far the most populous countries in the world, have been significantly increasing the consumption of meat, which requires as much as 10 times more grains to produce than a vegetarian diet.
Meanwhile, global stockpiles of corn, soybeans, and wheat have dwindled significantly during the past 12 months as a result of droughts, adverse growing conditions in key crop-producing areas, and a virus that’s destroying large wheat crops. In addition, mandates for ethanol production in the U.S. are causing farmers to increase their production of corn for biofuels and to reduce their production of other grains.
In other economic developments, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the construction of new privately-owned homes unexpectedly rose in April compared to the previous month. Although the sequential increase in new housing starts is a positive development, housing starts continued to decline on a year-over-year basis, falling 31 percent as compared to the same month a year ago.
Meanwhile, the University of Michigan reported that its index of consumer expectations regarding future economic conditions fell in early May to the lowest level since 1990, when the U.S. was in a recession. As a result of falling consumer confidence, consumers continued to cut back on their spending at the local mall during April, with the U.S. Department of Commerce reporting last Tuesday that inflation-adjusted retail sales fell for the fifth month in a row in April. Declining home values, tightening bank lending standards, and a deteriorating employment market also negatively impacted consumer spending.
Although the developments mentioned above may appear to bode poorly for the U.S. economy, my research indicates that certain segments of the economy will perform quite well during the second half of this year. Go here now if you’d like to learn how to invest in a diversified portfolio of companies in those segments through the use of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
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