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U.S. Slowdown Putting Breaks On Next $100 A Barrel Trade?

Oil Barrels
Oil Barrels

Traders are looking at the latest retail sales figuresand thinking twice about snapping up crude. According to Thompson Financials combined retail index, November and December sales stalled to 2004 levels.

It's one more sign that the economy is slowing if not contracting. And it doesn't really matter which in the oil pits. Anything other than expansion means demand won't continue to gallop ahead of production and perhaps triple digit oil is overblown.

And speaking of demand, the EIA's Short Term Energy Outlook for January pounds another nail into the energy bulls coffins. Gasoline demand in the fourth quarter of 2007 fell flat compared to a year ago. That hasn't happened for seven years!

For so long, we have endured the argument: "people are driving to work, to soccer practice… it's impossible to put on the breaks when Americans are going to places they must go." Perhaps not. And certainly if stores sell less merchandise, there's less energy guzzling production and shipping happening.

Calls, like Jeff Rubin's at CIBC World Markets, echo through the markets far less frequently these days. He thinks we'll see $150 oil in the next five years, along with $4.50 a gallon gas. That doesn't sound far fetched, just far off in the future.

The big sign post in the road now will be the government GDP number for the fourth quarter of 2007. That comes on January 30th and if it's a small number, or dare I say, a negative one, crude's slide may have only just begun.

Questions? Comments? energysource@cnbc.com