Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Severe Weather and a Blip in Oil Prices

The unusually cold weather in North America this winter is now causing spot shortages of fuel for heating. Temperatures are again about 10°C below normal east of the Rockies, though above-normal temperatures in and west of the Rockies partly make up for it. People drive less when the weather closes roads, but this is a small effect compared to fuel for heating, so oil and gasoline prices will be higher for a few weeks. I have heard multiple stories of houses running out of heating oil as the unusual weather throws off providers’ estimates of how much oil people’s furnaces are burning. The oil truck shows up with a note of apology.

These are passing weather events, and they won’t have much lasting impact on world oil prices. The extra spending on heating will slow down all other areas of the U.S. economy, though, and that effect will probably be detectable when economic reports for the first quarter come out.