Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Oil Prices and Interest Rates Are Up Again

Oil prices, which had recently fallen to $50 per barrel a month ago, are once again approaching $60. Despite this 20% increase, gasoline prices have actually fallen 7% during the same time. Yet the average consumer seems convinced that when oil prices go up, gasoline prices go up more; and when oil prices fall, gasoline prices don't fall as much. There is no truth to this. The fact is that gasoline prices are less volatile than oil prices. That's because only 50% of the cost of gasoline depends upon the cost of oil. The other components are refining costs, taxes, marketing, and distribution.

In addition to rising oil prices, another growing risk is rising long-term interest rates. The 10-year bond was yielding less than 4.5% about a month ago. Now it's above 4.8%. Most investors focus on what the Fed might or might not do. But the Fed can only change short-term rates. It influences long-term rates only indirectly. And rising long-term rates are not usually good for stocks.