Crude oil surpassed the $32-a-barrel mark on Monday, and analysts said they expected prices to continue to surpass levels reached during the Persian Gulf crisis nine years ago, raising fears of a spike in inflation.
"We're expecting the
to rise 2.8% vs. 2.6% in 1999," said Paul Kasriel, chief economist at
Northern Trust Company
. "I would say there's a risk it could be higher in part because of higher oil prices."
Energy constitutes about 6% of the government's Consumer Price Index.
New York Mercantile Exchange
, the April crude-oil futures contract settled up 67 cents, or 2%, at $32.18 a barrel, higher than the $32 mark reached on Jan. 16, 1991, the start of the Persian Gulf War. Oil analysts said crude was poised to exceed the 10-year high of $33.75 a barrel, reached on Nov. 29, 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
A joint statement from Iran, Algeria and Libya questioning the need for an increase in supply as well as production disruptions in Nigeria and the North Sea contributed to the rise in crude prices on Monday.
Crude's steady upward rise has pushed up gasoline prices. Unleaded gasoline for April delivery rose 0.64 cent a gallon, to settle at 98.25 cents. On Monday, the
warned that gasoline stocks "remain alarmingly low."
"U.S. wholesale and retail gasoline prices are poised to surge to unprecedented levels before the spring is out," the Energy Department said in a report. "Already, national average prices have reached levels heretofore associated with critical oil disruption fears, such as those engendered by the Iraq invasion of Kuwait nearly a decade ago."
The Energy Department said gasoline prices at the pump could average $1.50 a gallon through the summer and even reach a monthly average of $1.75 to $1.80 a gallon during peak driving season.
Marshall Steeves, a commodities analyst at
, said crude prices could rise as high as $35 per barrel by the end of the month, when the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
is expected to meet to discuss whether to raise production.
Some OPEC members, including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, have indicated that they would support increasing oil production. Market watchers have said OPEC could increase its output by 1 million to 1.5 million barrels a day.
But even with an increase in supply, Kasriel said, strong U.S. and Asian demand would continue to buoy prices and contribute to inflationary pressures. He said that as a result of a threefold increase in oil prices since December 1998, he was starting to see a pass-through effect in nonenergy sectors, including shipping, airlines and plastics.