Does Plunging Oil Portend Recession?


Crude oil has tumbled 15 percent in the past ten trading session, approaching the summertime low of nearly $40 a barrel. That means it’s time for one of the favorite economic themes of 2015: “Plunging demand for oil is the harbinger of a recession”. As recounted many times in this space, there has indeed been a drop off in activity in China and those emerging markets, which rely on trade with the world’s second largest economy. But surprisingly, as demand for oil has drifted down, supply has increased. That’s not supposed to happen, at least in the econ textbooks. You know how it works: demand weakens, prompting suppliers to cut back and then prices start to climb back up. But around the globe, production levels have remained robust. US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states are keeping the spigots open, creating a glut of oil.

The good news is that gas prices have resumed a downward slide. AAA says that the average price for a gallon of regular gas is $2.18, down from $2.91 a year ago, with prices below $2 in many areas. AAA spokesman Avery Ash said “It looks increasingly likely that drivers will find the cheapest gas prices for both Thanksgiving and Christmas in seven years.”

Lest you think that Americans will use those savings at the pumps and beef up their holiday purchases, don’t bet on it. As gas prices have careened lower this year, there has been little evidence that consumers are spending it freely in the economy. Instead, they have been beefing up their cash reserves or saving for large purchases, like cars.

That parsimonious trend has been bad news for US economists, who have been hoping that our retail instincts would kick in and boost growth in the fourth quarter. It also may worrisome for the nation’s retailer’s, some of whom (Macy’s, Nordstrom) have been struggling, as the all-important holiday season is about to kick off.

But, wait…where’s that holiday optimism? OK, here it is: the last jobs report was really good, the service sector continues to advance and according to the Federal Reserve, “household spending and business fixed investment have been increasing at solid rates in recent months, and the housing sector has improved further.” That sounds pretty decent and not at all like a recession is imminent.

MARKETS: Investors broke a six-week winning streak in stocks, producing the largest percentage losses since the week ended August 21st.

  • DJIA: 17,245 down 3.7% on week, down 3.2% YTD
  • S&P 500: 2,023 down 3.6% on week, down 1.7% YTD
  • NASDAQ: 4,927 down 4.3% on week, up 4% YTD
  • Russell 2000: 1146, down 4.4% on week, down 4.8% YTD
  • 10-Year Treasury yield: 2.28% (from 2.32% a week ago)
  • Dec Crude: $40.76, down 7.9% on week (biggest weekly loss in 7 months)
  • Dec Gold: $1,080.90, down 0.6% on week
  • AAA Nat'l avg. for gallon of reg. gas: $2.18 (from $2.22 wk ago, $2.91 a year ago)


Mon 11/16:

8:30 Empire State Manufacturing

Tues 11/17:

8:30 CPI

9:15 Industrial Production

10:00 Housing Market Index

Weds 11/18:

8:30 Housing Starts

2:00 FOMC Minutes

Weds 11/19:

10:00 Philly Fed

Weds 11/20: