What did I miss?
Weren't consumers around the globe were being decimated by soaring gasoline bills just a few months ago? Wasn't President Bush just over in Saudi Arabia begging the royal family to open up their spigot? Wasn't a presidential candidate just proposing $1,000 consumer rebates to help fight soaring energy bills?
My, how times have changed.
The price of oil has been sliced by well more than half since it peaked in July. Back then, many reputable oil names predicted $250 oil was right around the corner ... now some analysts are throwing around $50 as a short-term target.
For energy companies that were scolded for making so much money, this stinks. ExxonMobil
But for consumers, obviously, oil's plunge has been a boon akin to, well, a stimulus package ... care of the oil market. Just how much have we saved?
A heck of a lot
Even with the recent changes in driving behavior that have practically obliterated Ford and General Motors
When you think about that number -- 378 million gallons per day -- the fall in gas prices is pretty staggering. Gas prices peaked on July 11 at $4.11, and have since fallen to $2.78 ... a drop of $1.33 per gallon.
A little quick math: 378 million gallons per day. A savings of $1.33 per gallon. That's $500 million per day, or about $183 billion per year.
Sound familiar? That's just slightly more than the amount the stimulus package that put $600 checks in millions of pockets earlier this year.
When put in the context of our trade deficit, oil's plunge is even more impressive. We imported about 313 million barrels of oil from foreign nations in July alone. Factor in the $80 per-barrel plunge, and we're looking at $300 billion per year chopped off the trade deficit. And most important: not a single dollar had to be printed. For once, an economic stimulus that didn't add a cent of debt to our nation's running tab. Hallelujah!
Of course, there's a downside
Thank goodness, we're getting a bit of relief ... the timing couldn't have been better. Or could it have been?
One of the main drivers behind alternative energy was oil's punishing price. Consumer angst over $4 gasoline prompted a slew of innovation that all but promised an eventual solution to our energy woes, and more importantly, an end to a reliance on foreign oil.
Now that oil has come down to a level most won't complain about (some areas report gasoline at less than $2 a gallon), the need to innovate and the push to conserve have likely fallen by the wayside. Companies like Capstone Turbine
Of course, you won't hear many gripes about falling energy prices. But in the long term, once the economy recovers and demand rebounds, we'll be in over our heads with pricey energy ... again ... and likely in a more onerous way than we were earlier this year. The longer these problems get swept under the rug, the harder they are to solve.
Regardless, you might as well relish in the stimulus package you've received from oil markets while you can. With markets crashing and unemployment on the rise, it's about the only thing worth smiling about these days.
For related Foolishness:
Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article, but filled his gas tank for less than $30 the other day. Sasol is a Motley Fool Global Gains and a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation.The Fool has a disclosure policy.