Economy Watch: Stocks; Oil & Gas Prices

Although open for business on Columbus Day, Wall Street suffered a down day. There has also been a persistent decline in international oil prices, ergo lowering gas prices as well.

Wall Street was open for business on the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, but perhaps investors wished the equities markets had taken the day off, as in fact the bond markets did. In any case, the Street still has those is-this-a-simple-correction-or-is-it-worse October sliding index blues, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 223.03 points, or 1.35 percent for the day. The S&P 500 lost 1.65 percent, and the Nasdaq declined 1.65 percent.

Leading the way down were energy and airline stocks, such as United (dropped 7.3 percent) and Delta (down 6.1 percent), perhaps on worries that Ebola-related travel restrictions would dint their business. All together, the declines since Thursday have been the largest three-day drop in the market since 2011, and have erased all of the gains made since the beginning of 2014 (in fact, the Dow is off 1.35 percent year to date, but still up 7.1 percent since this time last year).

The Chicago Board of Options Exchange’s Volatility Index ended Monday at 21.13, or 49.77 percent above its 50-day moving average. Better known as the Wall Street Fear & Greed Index, the VIX is very much on the Fear side of the spectrum; that is, a reading that high indicates that investors are worried indeed about the near-term values of their portfolios.

Oil, Gas Prices Drop Dramatically

The main reason oil stocks dropped on Monday is the persistent recent decline in international oil prices, which is have the subsidiary effect of lowering gas prices for U.S. consumers. The global benchmark, Brent crude oil, dropped 1.5 percent on Monday to $88.89 a barrel, and is poised to drop further, as worldwide production has created a glut in supply recently, and there’s no agreement among major oil producing nations, especially members of OPEC, about how to cut production or otherwise shore up prices.

AAA reported on Monday that the U.S. average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.199, compared with $3.289 a week ago, and $3.403 a month ago. Last year, the average was $3.344 per gallon.

The drop might be bad for oil stocks, but it’s welcome news for U.S. consumers, and other retailers for that matter, who stand to benefit from the money that people aren’t going to spent on gasoline in the next few months. On average, a U.S. household consumes about 1,200 gallons of gas a year, meaning that households save $120 each year for every 10-cent drop in the price of gas.

“We expect nationwide gasoline prices will move to between $3.10/gal and $3.20/gal in November and December,” noted GasBuddy chief oil analyst Tom Kloza earlier this month in a statement. “The cheapest numbers are likely to occur when refining production recovers. The actual bottom in this current down-cycle may not occur until January.”