U.S. gasoline seen at $1 a gallon in 2009: Alaron

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The price of gasoline, which soared to above $4 per gallon in July and hit motorists and industry hard, could retail at an average $1 per gallon next year, brokerage Alaron Trading Corp forecast on Thursday.

A gasoline pump nozzle is seen at a gas station as fuel prices continue to rise in Arlington, Virginia, June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young

Alaron energy analyst Phil Flynn told a conference in Chicago he expected crude oil prices to range between $25 and $50 per barrel in 2009, with the short-term target being $35.

“We’re not going to see commodities turn around overnight. We’re entering a new era in commodities with more stable prices and we will not see the big spikes in prices we’ve seen in the past,” Flynn said.

Crude oil plunged about $108 per barrel, or nearly 75 percent, from a record high $147 a barrel in July to below $40 on Thursday as global consumption continues to slow.

Flynn also said that average retail gasoline prices in the United States next year could fall to $1.00 per gallon from the current average of nearly $1.70..

A MasterCard SpendingPulse report released on Tuesday pegged the current average price for gasoline at $1.67 a gallon and also said that demand for gasoline fell 2.5 percent during the week ended December 12.

“The days of easy money are over, credit will be tight and we could see five to 10 years of fairly stable prices,” Flynn said.

“We had the biggest OPEC cut (oil production) in history yesterday (Wednesday) and the market went down ... basically the market threw a shoe at OPEC,” he said.

The reason OPEC cut production is because the global economy is struggling and the price of oil is declining because consumption is declining, Flynn said, all bearish factors for energy prices.

Alaron metals analyst Dave Meger told Reuters on the sideline of the conference that he expected gold prices to average $850 to $860 an ounce next year but he refused to predict a high or low price for the precious metal.

“If you can tell me when the economy starts to recover then I can tell you when gold prices recover, and I’m guessing right now about six months or so into next year,” Meger said.

Meger said gold is still a safe haven investment and said those forecasting gold rallying to $1,000 to $2,000 per ounce may be right, but it won’t rally until it stops being traded as an asset class like everything else.

Gold remains about 17 percent below the all-time high of $1,030.80 it hit on March 17. It fell amid a wave of “deleveraging” in which investors sold bullion for cash to cover margin calls amid losses in other assets.

Demand for gold in Asia is tied to that region’s culture and will stay strong but demand elsewhere will be weak until the global economy starts improving, he said.

Alaron grains analyst Tim Hannagan gave a contrarian view for the grain market, saying he expected wheat, corn and soybean prices to move higher next year. That’s in stark contrast to the past year’s trend of grains almost mirroring the moves in crude oil and other commodities.

“We’ve divorced ourselves from the other commodities,” Hannagan told Reuters.

Hannagan said corn prices in the spring of 2009 would range from $4.60 to $5.25 and he sees a summer high of $6 to $7 per bushel. Corn futures prices recently dropped below $4 per bushel.

He pegged soy prices next spring between $10 and $11 per bushel and a summer high of $12 to $13 compared with prices below $9 this week. Also, wheat prices from March-June will average between $7.50 and $8.75, up from roughly $5.60 per bushel on Thursday.

Prices for grain and soybeans have fallen over 50 percent since record highs were set earlier this year but strong global demand for protein will boost prices, he said.

He also said that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is even more supportive of green fuels than the current Bush administration, which is a good omen for corn and soyoil, the key inputs for the U.S. biofuels industry.

“Ethanol expansion has slowed down and there have been some bankruptcies” by some companies who had a faulty hedging plan but “ethanol isn’t going away,” he said.

Editing by Christian Wiessner