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The Oil Spread Is Back

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Anyone looking for an economic tailwind needs to look at our handy chart on the spot price of oil.

In particular, look at the far right side of the graph. There are two oil prices. One is the world price, based on what's charged for Brent North Sea oil in Europe. The other is the U.S. price, defined as West Texas Intermediate, or WTI.

Since 2011, there has been a pronounced difference or spread between these prices. Early this summer, it seemed to be disappearing. Now it has widened again, and is at about $15/barrel according to the chart. Analysts, like Dan Dicker, who thought WTI would surpass Brent in July, now see the gap widening.

This is an enormous economic tailwind, notes Mark Perry on the American Enterprise Institute's blog Carpe Diem.The U.S. exports oil in the form of refined product, and that now totals more than 3 million barrels a day. In constant 2009 dollars, Perry expects that to exceed $7 billion this year, which would help limit the trade deficit.

That is in addition to the natural-gas glut, which has the benchmark "Henry Hub" price staying well below $4 per thousand cubic feet all next year, according to the CME Group's future contracts, while European consumers pay over $11/mcf. The explosion in production throughout the eastern Marcellus Shale means some folks there are getting even less than the Henry Hub price.

Energy price bulls remain bullish. Claude Salhani has written at OilPrice.com that Saudi Arabia and Iran may be close to war. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar told the country's Al Akhbar news service the country is shifting away from the U.S.

But the link between oil prices and economic growth seems to be broken now. In the past, crude prices were likely to jump on even the hint of better times. Now the Energy Information Agency sees U.S. fuel demand as flat while drivers buy more fuel-efficient cars.

How can this be bad? Well, fracking costs more than just sticking a pipe in the ground. Fracked wells lose their productive capacity quickly. That means the margin between costs and prices is narrower than it once was, and falling prices narrow it further.

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