Slow Growth Is Forecast, Except in Prices

Other countries easily pick up the slack of weakening U.S. demand for oil and coal.

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Well, even if no one else in the government is admitting we are in a recession, the federal energy forecasters are.

Their just released short-term energy and summer fuels outlook assumes that gross domestic product fell 0.14 percent in the first quarter of this year and will be down 0.04 percent in the second quarter. Then, the economy comes "roaring" back in the third and fourth quarters, with GDP forecast to be up only 0.58 percent and 0.42 percent, respectively. But even with an economy that is this anemic—and with U.S. petroleum consumption falling as a result—the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that people will be paying an average of 40 cents a gallon more this year for gasoline.

"The monthly average gasoline price is projected to peak near $3.50 per gallon this spring," the forecast says. "It is important to note, however, that even if the national average monthly gasoline price peaks near that level, there is a significant possibility that prices during some shorter time period, or in some region or subregion, will cross the $4-per-gallon threshold."

The reason, according to EIA: Even though Americans are using less oil, the rest of the world—especially China, India, and the Middle East—are using more, keeping the price high for everyone.

But all this energy globalization has one bright side for some U.S. businesses, although it's a dark side for the climate. EIA confirms that although demand for coal (our favored fuel for electricity) is now weak in the United States (see previous GDP numbers for the reason), mining companies are finding eager markets for their black diamonds overseas. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post charted the development in recent weeks. EIA says that after two years of growing U.S. coal imports, up 12 percent in 2005 and 19 percent in 2006, the trend reversed completely last year, when U.S. coal exports were up 19.2 percent.