Early last month, when oil prices flirted with inflation-adjusted record highs, fears of sky-high gas prices were filtered through the media.
CNBC's Erin Burnett gave viewers a frightening prediction of $4-a-gallon gasoline during a January 2 appearance on the NBC "Nightly News." The "Street Signs" anchor cited John Kilduff, the vice president of risk management at the MF Global Ltd. Brokerage, as the source of this predicted high watermark for gasoline.
"And John Kilduff, who I know you speak with often, as well, Brian, he says we could see prices at the pump as high as $4 a gallon," Burnett said. "And that could be by the middle of February. So it could be anytime in the next six weeks. So that's going to be an increase, and we've seen it across the board, Brian. Commodity prices are going up, and that is causing worry for stocks."
But the prediction never happened. Oil briefly went up to $100 a barrel early in January, but has since gone down to as low as $87 a barrel before rallying to over $98 a barrel on February 19. Gas prices never came close and have risen to $3.03, nearly $1 below the target.
Burnett explained her prediction would take time back in January because of the time lag with oil prices and gas prices.
"Well, Brian you said it right there," Burnett said. "There is a lag time. It could take two weeks, it could take four weeks, but usually what happens to oil prices eventually happens to gasoline prices. And you can see right there, a year ago prices were trading at $2.32 a gallon. Now you're going to pay $3.05."
According to the Oil Price Information Service, on February 19, the national average for gas was $3.03 a gallon. However, a refinery fire in Big Spring, Texas caused gasoline to spike slightly on February 18.
That's still nowhere near a $4-a-gallon price tag. But one expert explained this spike is more psychological than market-based.
"Refinery capacity is fairly tight and any kind of movement like this tends to impact the market more psychologically than in terms of supply and demand," Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.