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Since peaking on May 1, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) has closed down every day except one, losing about 5% of its value in the process. But as the blue chips have slid, oil prices have slipped even further, down more than 10% since closing near $106 per barrel on May 1, and shares of United States Oil (AMEX: USO ) , an ETF tracking the West Texas crude price, have dropped from more than $40 all the way down to $35.
News today that U.S. oil demand had increased 2.2% along with a 1.2% uptick in gasoline use over the last week helped momentarily stem the drop in oil prices, but the day's drop continued, down over 1% as of this writing. Crude inventories also rose by 2.1 million barrels, remaining at 22-year highs.
Worries about a global recession have helped drive down oil prices over the last two weeks. Spain and the U.K. slipped back into recession, and the instability of Greece following an inconclusive election has driven concerns over the future of the eurozone.
A concerted effort by OPEC also appears to have brought prices down, as has calming tensions with Iran as Tehran agreed last month to discuss its controversial nuclear program.
Lower oil prices have translated into lower gasoline prices, with the average price for a gallon at the pump dropping from $3.89 a month ago to $3.73. The summer driving season is also starting to look like it may be less painful as the Energy Information Administration revised its price forecast for a gallon between now and September to $3.79 from $3.95. The lower gas prices should be a boon to consumers and retail stocks over the next few months.
Meanwhile, as oil has slumped, natural gas has gone through the roof, gaining 5% today to $2.60/MMBtu and 30% since it bottomed out about a month ago. Shares of United States Natural Gas (AMEX: UNG ) have jumped from $14.25 to nearly $19. Changes including some producers cutting their output and an increase in utilities using natural gas instead of coal have helped drive up prices. Unsurprisingly, coal prices have dipped more than 10% this month. Observers have also noted that storage supplies are not building as fast as expected. While inventories still remain unusually high, a hot summer could increase nat gas demand further for air conditioning. With prices still half of what they were a year ago, natural gas still has a long way to go to make a full-on recovery. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) , the country's biggest gas producer, would stand to benefit from a sustained recovery as it has invested heavily in gas in recent years and currently has no plans to curtail production.
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