Have you been wrapped up in the government's attempts to confront the financial panic? Well, you might also want to keep tabs on the oil-price forecasts that are beginning to drift in for 2009. Something tells me that the latter will be a bigger determinant of economic vitality next year -- and for eons to come.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out over the weekend, most of the prognostications for the coming year are more bullish than you might have expected. Perhaps the biggest surprise among the forecasts comes from the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. I've noticed that the administration typically comes in low on its forecasts, yet it's now looking for a $126.50-per-barrel average for 2009. That figure compares with projected averages of $107 and $120 from Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank, respectively.

And Arjun Murti of Goldman Sachs, who in May saw an "increasing likelihood" that we'd hit crude levels of $150 to $200 in the next six to 24 months, is now looking for a $110 average next year. That's down from his earlier $140 expectation.

Although higher prices are fine for the likes of ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) -- at least from a financial standpoint, if not from a political one -- they probably won't do much for refiners such as Tesoro (NYSE:TSO) and Valero (NYSE:VLO), which suffer when crude prices outstrip their gasoline counterparts. Those higher prices will, however, also grease the skids of such oilfield-services companies as Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Transocean (NYSE:RIG).

I have two reactions to the predictions. The first is that they're generally not worth the paper they're printed on. Who can envision, for instance, whether difficulties with Iran will expand into a military event that could affect the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world's traded crude passes? Were that to occur, you can apply a major multiplier to the highest of the forecasts.

Secondly, it's somewhat sobering to note that as recently as 2004 -- the last year in which we held a national election, I might add -- West Texas Intermediate crude averaged $41.44 a barrel. On that basis, and by looking at next year's forecasts, we can easily agree on one thing: It'd be a surprise if crude headed appreciably lower.

With all of this in mind, I'd recommend that Fools remain diligent about re-oiling their investment portfolios on a regular basis. 

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.