Anyone hoping the new year would ring in lower energy costs may have some hard resolutions ahead.
With crude oil traipsing over $100 a barrel in recent days, it has set consumers wondering whether the budget-sucking effects of gasoline and heat will ease in 2008.
Not going to happen, economists and energy consultants say.
"There's nothing out there saying that any of this is going to change direction," said Darin Newsom, senior analyst at the commodities research company DTN in Omaha.
High oil prices come amid a mounting list of signs Americans are in financial distress. Preliminary holiday sales reports are tepid. Last year, personal bankruptcies rose 40 percent nationwide and 52 percent in Minnesota. Food inflation continues to rise. And the delinquency rate on consumer loans -- such as auto and home improvement -- hit 2.44 percent July to September, the highest level of late payments since the recession of 2001, the American Bankers Association reported on Thursday.
Oil futures first crossed $100 a barrel on Wednesday. Light, sweet crude then hit a new record of $100.09 on Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange before closing at $99.18. Analysts cited a larger-than-expected drop in inventories, and investors' continued flight from other markets into commodities.
Some said heating oil is approaching its expected high -- but only after nearly doubling in price from $1.59 a gallon a year ago to $2.72 Thursday.
Gasoline prices at the pump are a third higher than a year ago, to $3.062 a gallon across the country and $2.974 in the Twin Cities. Predictions for this summer go as high as $4.
Dealing with higher energy costs
Minneapolis financial adviser Tara McCarthy said more people on fixed incomes are coming to her, searching for room in their budgets for ballooning energy expenses.
Their heating costs are doubling, McCarthy said. And two-car families are spending $350 a month just for gas.
More than half of Twin Cities households already paid $10,000 a year for gas in the summer 2006, when gas was in the $2.75 range, according to a study by the national Center for Transit-Oriented Development. Researchers at the time wrote that, if gas hit $3 a gallon, add another $1,200.
Fuel affects food costs, too. "We transport a lot of our food," said agriculture economist John Lawrence, at Iowa State University in Ames. "We refrigerate a lot of our food, and we wrap it in plastic -- all tied to fuel."
For all that, Americans have a recent track record of borrowing money instead of adjusting their ways.
"Will demand for gasoline go down? That will be the reaction by the consumer that I'm most interested in seeing," Newsom said.
"So far consumers have proven to be pretty resilient to higher prices," said Brian Youngberg, energy analyst at Edward Jones Investments in St. Louis. "The question is whether they're just going to keep doing what they've done for years and what they do best: consume."
H.J. Cummins • 612-673-4671