NEW YORK — The price of oil dropped below $100 per barrel for the first time since February. The dramatic drop — $5 per barrel by midday — is easing fears that high energy prices would cripple a U.S. economy that is struggling to overcome high unemployment, stagnant wages and weak growth.
The catalyst was Friday’s weaker than expected report on job growth in the U.S. That added to recent signs that the global economy is weakening, meaning demand for oil should slow.
Earlier this year, world oil demand looked to be rising quickly at the same time that world supplies were threatened by a host of small production outages and the prospect of drastically reduced production from Iran, the world’s third biggest exporter.
Those developments raised the prospect that world supplies would be at their most tenuous just as the summer driving season in the developed world was arriving. The price of the U.S. benchmark oil rose to $110. International oil spiked even higher, to $128 per barrel.
Gasoline prices in the U.S. appeared to be on track to soar past $4 per gallon nationwide and break the 2008 record of $4.11
That picture has now been turned upside down. World oil supplies are growing while demand is falling. U.S. gasoline prices have fallen to $3.80 per gallon from a peak of $3.94 in early April. Now they could go as low as $3.50 per gallon by July 4, according to Tom Kloza, Chief Oil Analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.