TIME Diet/Nutrition

Gas-Sensing Pills May Detect Underlying Stomach Problems

Overweight senior man touching stomach
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Research is now looking at the gases made by gut bacteria compounds for clues to our health

We treat all gas pretty much the same way—with a held breath. Then we ignore it. But our bodies are brimming with all kinds of interesting gases, many of which have a lot to say about our health. They’re worth paying attention to, argues a new paper in the journal Trends in Biotechnology.

A multidisciplinary team in Australia say they’ve developed a noninvasive swallowable sensor, in the form of a pill, that can detect the gases brewing inside of you. Currently, experts rely on indirect measurements—like breath and fecal analysis—to gauge which gases are in the intestine. But a sensor could tell you straight from the source.

The gas capsules aren’t yet available for human use, and the paper is just a discussion of techniques. But here’s the idea: When bacteria ferment undigested food in your gut, they release gases like carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane, the researchers write. The types of gases bacteria produce, and their concentrations, depend on your health—and in certain concentrations, some gases can indicate gastrointestinal disorders, says Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, study co-author and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

A gas-sensing pill could give you a real-time glimpse into what’s going on in your gut; as the gases permeate the sensor, the sensors produce signals and digitize the data, then send it to an app, he says. “If some organic compound like butyrate goes up, that means something is happening to the wall of the stomach,” he explains, “and the thing that is happening is generally not good, has to be detected and should be addressed very quickly.”

MORE: You Asked: Should I Take Probiotics?

Even for a person without stomach troubles, the sensor could be useful for figuring out exactly how foods affect the body, Kalantar-zadeh says. “Basically, this tells us if the food that we take transforms into energy efficiently in our body or not,” he explains. “That can actually have a very big impact on all the controversies about food.”

While food science is tormented by conflicting findings—are low-carb diets good or bad?—gas is more straightforward, Kalantar-zadeh says. “Information about the gases inside the stomach are not complicated information,” he says. “Automatically, we can have libraries that compare the charts for you, so basically it needs just an app to give you the information.”

Currently, researchers are digging into our gut bacteria to figure out exactly what they say about our health, unearthing links to all kinds of issues from food allergies to how the body responds to medication to red meat’s role in heart failure. “This at least adds an extra degree of certainty to those kind of associations,” says Kalantar-zadeh. “It can have such a potential impact on the health of human beings.”

TIME Oil

The Real (and Troubling) Reason Behind Lower Oil Prices

green-gasoline-pump
Getty Images

It isn't supply and demand, as most people believe

I am obsessed with how the top tier of finance has undermined, rather than fueled, the real economy. In part, that’s because of I’m writing a book about the topic, but also because so many market stories I come across seem to support this notion. The other day, I had lunch with Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets for Morgan Stanley Investment Management and chief of macroeconomics for the bank, who posited a fascinating idea: the major fall in oil prices since this summer may be about a shift in trading, rather than a change in the fundamental supply and demand equation. Oil, he says, is now a financial asset as much as a commodity.

The conventional wisdom about the fall in oil prices has been that it’s a result of both slower demand in China, which is in the midst of a slowdown and debt crisis, but also the increase in US shale production and the unwillingness of the Saudis to stop pumping so much oil. The Saudis often cut production in periods of slowing demand, but this time around they have not. This is in part because they are quite happy to put pressure on the Iranians, their sectarian rivals who need a much higher oil price to meet their budgets, as well as the Russians, who likewise are on the wrong side of the sectarian conflict in the Middle East via their support for the Syrian regime.

Sharma rightly points out, though, that supply and demand haven’t changed enough to create a 50% plunge in prices. Meanwhile, the price decline began not on the news of slower Chinese growth or Saudi announcements about supply, but last summer when the Fed announced that it planned to stop its quantitative easing program. Sharma and many others believe this program fueled a run up in asset buying in both emerging markets and commodities markets. “Easy money had kept oil prices artificially high for much longer than fundamentals warranted, as Chinese demand and oil supply had started to turn back in 2011, and oil prices have now merely returned to their long-term average,” says Sharma. “The end of the Fed’s quantitative easing has finally pricked the oil bubble.”

If this is the case, the fact that hot money could have such an effect on such a crucial everyday resource is worrisome. And the fact that the Fed’s QE, which was designed to buoy the real economy, has instead had the unintended and perverse effect of inflating asset prices is particularly disturbing. I think that regulatory attention on the financialization of the commodities markets will undoubtedly grow; for more on how it all works, check out this New York Times story on Goldman’s control of the aluminum markets. Amazing stuff.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Ruchir Sharma. He is the head of emerging markets for Morgan Stanley Investment Management.

Read next: The U.S. Will Spend $5 Billion on Energy Research in 2015 – Where Is It Going?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Autos

For Electric Cars, High Gas Prices Can’t Come Back Quickly Enough

2015 NIssan LEAF
Nissan—Wieck 2015 NIssan LEAF

Gas prices have rebounded a bit, but they remain low enough to kill the cost-saving argument for buying a plug-in electric car like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.

Thanks to the dramatic decline in prices at the pump, the average American household is expected to spend $750 less on gas in 2015 than it did last year. We’ve already seen how some of this “saved” money is being spent, what with restaurants, casinos, hotels, and recreational activities all seeing a bump in business lately. Cheap gas seems to have affected big-ticket purchase decisions as well, exhibited most obviously by the spike in SUV and luxury car sales.

It’s an entirely different story, however, when it comes to the impact of cheap gas on electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. Nissan just released its February numbers, and sales for the brand were up 1.1% compared with last year. Sales of the all-electric Leaf, however, were down 16%. That follows on the heels of a 15% decrease in January, the first such sales decline for the Leaf in two years. Overall Leaf sales dropped from 2,677 for the first two months of 2014 to 2,268 this year.

The recent sales performance of the Chevrolet Volt, the gas-electric pioneer that has been vying with the Leaf for the title of most popular plug-in among buyers, has been even worse. January was the worst month for the Volt since August 2011, with only 592 units sold, a decrease of 41% compared with January 2014. According to General Motors data, 693 Volts sold in February 2015, a drop of 43% compared with 1,210 the year before.

Surely, the prospect of new Chevy plug-in models has hurt Volt sales lately. The all-electric Chevy Bolt, expected to cost $30,000 and get 200 miles on a single charge, is planned to hit the market in 2017, while the 2016 Volt should be available for purchase during the second half of 2015. Many would-be Volt buyers are simply waiting for the newer model, which can be driven 50 miles on electric power, up from 38 miles for the current one.

That explains some—but not all—of the decline in Volt sales. Certainly, cheap gas prices have done damage to sales of the Volt as well as the Leaf, other plug-in vehicles, and even hybrids like the Toyota Prius to boot. After all, one of the big reasons to buy an electrified vehicle is that powering it is cheaper than filling up at the pump. Consequently, when the price of gas plummets, like it did month after month for nearly half a year recently, a prime argument for going the plug-in route is weakened.

It isn’t just new plug-in models that have taken a beating thanks to a combination of cheaper gas prices and emerging new tech that makes older models seem outdated in a hurry. According to the Wall Street Journal, the resale value of used electric cars has absolutely tanked:

In December and January, for instance, the average selling price of a 2012 Nissan Leaf at auction was about $10,000, nearly a quarter of the car’s original list price and down $4,700 from a year earlier, according to NADA’s guide. Three-year-old Volts, a plug-in car with a backup gasoline motor, were selling for an average $13,000 at auction in January, down from about $40,000 excluding the federal tax credit.

Nissan is coming off of the best-ever year for any plug-in, with Leaf sales in the U.S. topping 30,000 in 2014. The way things have started in 2015, it will be difficult for the automaker to beat last year, though Nissan has blamed bad weather for the Leaf’s recent struggles, and it expects a strong rebound in the spring. Meanwhile, at the start of 2014, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said he anticipated selling an average of 3,000 Leafs monthly that year, and 4,000 Leaf purchases monthly sometime in the near future.

Recent sales notwithstanding, Nissan isn’t giving up on electric cars anytime soon. Neither are many other automakers. At the auto show in Geneva this week, BMW, Volkswagen, and Fiat Chrysler were among the car companies showing off high-tech battery-powered vehicles that demonstrate their commitment to electrified cars.

At some point, rising gas prices will likely steer more interest back to alternative-fuel cars too. But that hasn’t happened yet. “Gas prices inched back up this month, but it didn’t appear to have much impact on shoppers’ choices,” Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said in a report focused on February sales. “We’re still seeing a strong market for trucks and SUVs—especially compact crossover SUVs, which continue to ride an impressive wave of popularity.”

At least if the Leaf and Volt are struggling, Nissan and GM can take solace in the fact that some of their larger, less fuel-efficient and less environmentally friendly siblings are faring quite well during this winter of cheap gas, cold temperatures, and lots of snow. Two Nissan SUVs, the Pathfinder and Rogue, had record sales months in February, while GM pickup sales were up 37% for the month.

 

MONEY Oil

3 Reasons Gas Prices Could Rocket Higher

150304_INV_GasPricesHigh
Scott Olson—Getty Images Members of the United Steelworkers Union and other supporting unions picket outside the BP refinery.

Unfortunately, the days of $2 gas appear to be in the rearview mirror.

Well, we had a nice run. After 123 straight days of falling gasoline prices, sending it below $2 a gallon in many states, we’ve come back to reality a little bit. In fact, gas prices have now risen each and every day for about a month. Unfortunately, gas prices could go a lot higher because of three storm clouds that appear to be on the horizon, which could combine to send gas prices rocketing higher.

Storm cloud No. 1: Rising oil prices

The dramatic drop in the price of oil in late 2014 caused gas prices to come down as well. We see this correlation in the following chart:

Brent Crude Oil Spot Price Chart

 

As we see there, the price of oil is down 45% over the past year, while the price of gasoline is down 32%. However, we can also see that both have bounced off of their bottoms from earlier this year. That’s because the price of oil has stabilized and is now starting to head higher as the oil market starts to see signs that it is working out some of its supply/demand imbalance issues.

Because those issues are being addressed, the oil market is now starting to point to a higher oil price later this year. That’s a recipe for higher gas prices, which is just what the U.S. Energy Information Administration is predicting, as we can see on the chart below.

Storm cloud No. 2: The big switch

One other thing you might have noticed from that above chart is that the price of gasoline is notably more lumpy than the price of oil. It’s something most of us notice at the pump each year as gas prices almost always rise in the spring. That’s because summer driving season is upon us, which leads to more demand for gasoline.

However, what really drives the price of gas up isn’t so much increased demand for gasoline in the summer, but the fact that oil refineries need to shift gears in the spring to focus on refining summer-blend fuels as opposed to winter-blend gasoline and home heating oil. Along with this switch, refiners also tend to undergo routine maintenance in the spring, which reduces their refining capacity. This adds up, and over the past few years on average, this has added $0.54 per gallon to the cost of gasoline each spring.

Storm cloud No.3: The picket line

This year, there’s a new wrinkle that could throw a wrench in the spring refinery maintenance season. The refining industry is currently at odds with the United Steelworkers union as the two have failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. As the dispute grows, workers at a dozen U.S. refineries have walked off the job, putting 19% of U.S. refining capacity at risk. The strike could continue to expand, as neither party is giving much ground on the disputed issues. This could lead to up to 63 refineries, which represent two-thirds of refining capacity, being affected by the strike.

So far, the strike has only resulted in one refinery in California being shut down, and that’s just because it was already undergoing maintenance, and its owner decided not to run the plant. However, shortly thereafter, an explosion at another California refinery took that facility offline, too, and cut the state’s refining capacity by 25%. This resulted in gas prices spiking in Los Angeles by $0.50 per gallon. This suggests that should the growing labor dispute lead to refineries across the nation shutting down, it could cause a big spike in what we pay at the pump.

Bottom line

Unfortunately, the days of $2 gas appear to be in the rearview mirror. Even without the rally in the oil price over the past few weeks, gas prices would have headed higher because of the normal spring switchover at refineries. However, this year, the price of gas could be under even more pressure to rise because of the possibility of a continued increase in the price of oil, and the possibility that the refinery strike causes a big portion of refining capacity to be taken offline.

I know that’s not the greatest of news, but if gas prices do spike, at least you’ll know why. And it’s a good reminder that instead of complaining about gas prices, an investment in the oil industry could offset some of the extra costs we’ll be paying at the pump and take away a bit of the sting of spiking prices.

MONEY Gas

Where Gas Prices Shot Up Nearly $1 Per Gallon in One Month

A cyclist rides by a sign at a gas station in Los Angeles posting the latest gas prices on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Gas prices in California soared overnight as a result of a combination of supply-and-demand factors worsened by the shutdown of two refineries that produce a combined 16 percent of the state’s gasoline.
Nick Ut—AP A cyclist rides by a sign at a gas station in Los Angeles posting the latest gas prices on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.

Everyone is paying more at the pump lately. But California drivers have seen gas prices soar at an unbelievably fast pace.

In mid-January 2015, the national average for regular gasoline was $2.03 per gallon, and there seemed to be a strong possibility that gas stations would average under $2 nationally within weeks, or even days. Instead, that period marked what appears to be the bottoming out of the cheap gas era. After four months of consistently plummeting fuel costs, drivers began seeing gas prices inch up steadily—and then spike very recently.

Over the past week, the national average has crept up 2¢ daily, from $2.33 to $2.47 as of Monday, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. AAA data indicates that gas prices have risen 35 days in a row, for a total rise of 39¢ nationally.

While all drivers are paying more for gas than they did in the very recent past—more than a dozen states were averaging under $2 per gallon a month ago, but none are today—California has experienced an extraordinarily fast hike in prices at the pump. Apparently, an explosion at one oil refinery in the state brought about enough of a decrease in supply to send gas prices skyrocketing.

As of Tuesday, the average in California for a gallon of regular was $3.41, a rise of 96¢ over the past month and 43¢ during the last week alone. Nationally, gas prices are averaging a full $1 less than they were one year ago, even after the recent pricing surge. But in California, prices are only 45¢ cheaper than they were exactly 12 months ago, when the average was $3.86.

All signs indicate that drivers in California and all over the country will continue to be hit with rising gas prices. GasBuddy analysts forecast that prices will increase steadily during the next six to eight weeks, and AAA is predicting, “the national average price of gas could rise by 20 cents per gallon or more in March” alone.

Still, to put things in perspective, let’s not forget that gas prices averaged well over $3 nationally for entire years, and it seemed like a very big deal when the average dipped under $3 last fall.

“The good news is that most U.S. drivers should still pay less than $3 per gallon to fill up their cars this year,” AAA spokesperson Avery Ash said this week.

Not if you’re in California though.

TIME energy

The Easy Oil Is Gone, So Where Do We Look Now?

Oil Rig Drill
Getty Images

Studies point to the Middle East, Latin America, North America and Africa as the key regions for future oil plays

In 2008, Canadian economist Jeff Rubin stunned the oil market with a bold prediction: With the world economy growing at 5 percent a year, oil demand would grow with it, outpacing supply, thus lifting the oil price from $147 to over $200 a barrel.

The former chief economist at CIBC World Markets was so convinced of his thesis, he wrote a book about it. “Why the World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller” forecast a sea change in the global economy, all driven by unsustainably high oil prices, where domestic manufacturing is reinvigorated at the expense of seaborne trade and people’s choices become driven by the ever-increasing prices of fossil fuels.

In the book, Rubin dedicates an entire chapter to the changing oil supply picture, with his main argument being that oil companies “have their hands between the cushions” looking for new oil, since all the easily recoverable oil is either gone or continues to be depleted – at the rate of around 6.7% a year (IEA figures). “Even if the depletion rate stops rising, we must find nearly 20 million barrels a day of new production over the next five years simply to keep global production at its current level,” Rubin wrote, adding that the new oil will match the same level of consumption in 2015, as five years earlier in 2010. In other words, new oil supplies can’t keep up with demand.

Of course, Rubin at the time was talking about conventional oil – land-based and undersea oil – as well as unconventional oil sands. The shale oil “revolution” in the United States that took off soon after the publication of his book has certainly changed the supply picture, and the recent collapse in oil prices has forced Rubin to eat his words. With U.S. shale oil production soaring from 600,000 barrels a day in 2008 to 3.5 million barrels a day in 2014, the United States over the past few years has flooded the market with new oil from its shale formations, including the Eagle Ford in South Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), total U.S. production (conventional and unconventional) will increase to 9.3 million barrels a day this year, the most since 1972.

Read more: This Huge Oil Buyer Is Appearing Nextdoor To The U.S.

While some observers, including oil giant BP, are now predicting a slowdown in U.S. shale oil production as wells are depleted at a faster rate, to be replaced by Middle Eastern output that has lost ground to U.S. shale, the thesis posed by Jeff Rubin in 2008, that the world is running out of oil, seems to have changed to: Is the world swimming in oil?

In this continuing climate of abundant oil production, Oilprice.com sought to find out where the new oil will be found. The data could be used in a further analysis to determine whether an oversupplied market will continue to depress oil prices into the future – or whether a price correction is likely given a tightening of the market on the supply side.

According to a 2013 report by Wood Mackenzie, the world holds 1.4 trillion barrels of oil equivalent oil and gas reserves, with the Middle East, Latin America, North America and Africa identified as the key regions for future oil plays.

Of course, many of the new fields are uneconomic at current prices, so it is instructive to look at the largest oil fields to see where oil producers are likely to keep pumping, even though many of these fields are in decline.

They include Ghawar and Safaniya in Saudi Arabia, Burgan in Kuwait, and Rumalia and West Qurna-2 in Iraq. These five fields were named the most important by Oilprice.com in an article last June. Ghawar, the world’s largest field, has an estimated 70 billion barrels of remaining reserves, more than all but seven other countries, according to the EIA. In production since the 1950s, it continues to produce at 5 million barrels a day.

If you noticed the dominance of the Middle East in this list, you’d be right. Current estimates have over 80 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves located in OPEC member countries, with Middle Eastern reserves comprising 65 percent of the OPEC total.

Adding to the Oilprice.com list, Forbes named Majnoon in Iraq, Khuzestan (also the name of a province) in Iran, Kashagan in the Caspian Sea, Khurais in Saudi Arabia, the Tupi field offshore Brazil, Carabobo in Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy oil belt, and the North Slope of Alaska among its top 10 fields of the future.

Fortune places the Orinoco belt in Venezuela among its six largest untapped fields, at an eye-watering 513 billion barrels of recoverable crude. In comparison the Chicontapec Basin in Mexico, also on the list, is a Lilliputian at 10 billion barrels. Others include the Santos and Campos Basins in offshore Brazil, at 123 billion barrels, the Supergiant field in the southwest desert of Iraq, at between 45 and 100 billion barrels, and the Jubilee Field in Ghana, estimated to contain 1.8 billion barrels of recoverable crude.

The Canadian oil sands should of course also be included in the matrix of future oil supply. Despite the difficulty and higher-cost, compared to conventional sources, of stripping the bitumen from the oil sands and processing it into heavy oil, the vastness of the reserves contained in the sands of northern Alberta cannot be underestimated. According to the Alberta government the oil sands has proven reserves of about 168 billion barrels, the third largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Canadian oil sands production is forecasted to grow from about 2 million barrels per day to 3.7 million barrels per day by 2020 and 5.2 million barrels per day by 2030, according to Alberta Energy.

Many have pointed to the Arctic as the answer to the depletion of existing oil and gas fields. The region, which crosses Russia, Alaska, Norway and Greenland, is estimated to hold 166 billion barrels of oil equivalent, more oil and gas than Iran and enough to meet the world’s entire consumption of crude oil for five years, reported The Daily Telegraph.

Drilling down a bit further, the US Geological Survey estimates that over 87% of the Arctic’s oil and gas resources are located in seven Arctic basin provinces: Arctic Alaska Basin, East Barents Basin, East Greenland Basin, West Greenland East Canada Basin, East Greenland Rift Basin, West Siberian Basin and the Yenisey-Khatang Basin.

The Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska, which has been pumping oil since 1977, is the largest oil field in North America, at about 25 billion barrels. Around 16 percent of the Arctic’s undiscovered oil and gas is located on land, with the remaining potential either locked in continental shelves or underwater at depths over 500 metres.

Of the seven basins outlined by the USGS, the most abundant is Arctic Alaska, at 29.36 billion barrels of crude oil, followed by the Amerasia Basin, at 9.72 billon, and the East Greenland Rift Basin at 8.90 billion, according to Geology.com.

Among the oil majors eyeing the Arctic prize, Shell has been drilling off the coast of Alaska for decades, Statoil is active in the Norwegian Arctic, and ExxonMobil is exploring with Russia’s Rosneft in the Russian far north. Last year Rosneft/ ExxonMobil discovered a field that could hold up to 730 million barrels of oil, but for the time being, exploration looks thin. With low oil prices, most oil companies are reining in capital costs, and exploration expenditures are a high-priority line item. Statoil and Chevron have both put their Arctic plans on ice, and the ExxonMobil partnership with Rosneft could be in trouble due to Western sanctions against Russia. Shell is currently the only company sinking any capital into the Arctic, with the Anglo-Dutch firm announcing at the end of January that it plans to proceed with a $1-billion Arctic drilling this summer.

Read more: Is Oil Returning To $100 Or Dropping To $10?

And what of the shale oil reserves that have propelled the United States to becoming close to energy-independent and threaten to knock Saudi Arabia off its pedestal as the world’s top oil producer? In 2013, the EIA conducted the first-ever U.S. analysis of global shale oil reserves. It estimated “technically recoverable” (as opposed to economically recoverable) shale oil resources of 345 billion barrels in 42 countries, the equivalent of 10 percent of global crude oil supplies – and enough to cover over a decade of oil consumption.

According to the EIA, Russia and the United States have the largest shale oil resources, at a respective 75 billion barrels and 58 billion barrels, followed by China, Argentina and Libya. The other countries on the top 10 list of countries with technically recoverable shale include Australia, Venezuela, Mexico, Pakistan and Canada.

The EIA report also shows a marked increase in the number of prospective shale deposits globally compared to an earlier 2011 report. That report listed 32 countries with shale versus 41 in 2013, 48 basins versus 95, and half the number of formations, at 69 in 2011 versus 137 in 2013.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

More from Oilprice.com:

MONEY Gas

Here’s What Americans Are Doing With the Gas Money They’re Saving

Gas nozzle and money
Tim McCaig—Getty Images

The government's Energy Information Administration estimates the average household will spend $750 less on gas this year. So where's that money going?

Americans are enjoying a nice raise at the moment, in the form of dramatically lower gas prices. The government’s Energy Information Administration estimates that the average household will spend $750 less on gas this year, which is like getting a roughly $1,000 raise, since the savings aren’t taxed. For a little perspective, the 2008 economic stimulus package passed by Congress designed to save America from the worst of the recession sent a maximum of $600 to American households.

The gas price drop means even more to struggling lower-income earners: the bottom fifth of earners spend 13% of their income on gas.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Retailers aren’t seeing much, if any, of that money.

Americans spent $6.7 billion less on gas in January than November, but retail spending actually fell slightly during that span. That means lower gas prices are not acting as a surprise stimulus plan for the economy.

So where is the money going? To the bank.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently reported that Americans’ notoriously low personal savings rate spiked in December, to 4.9%, from 4.3% the previous month. The cash that’s not going into the gas tank is going into savings and checking accounts instead.

Few Americans save enough money, and many have insufficient rainy-day funds. With the recession fresh in their minds, many Americans appear to be more concerned with restoring their severely damaged net worth than buying stuff.

But Logan Mohtashami, a market observer and mortgage analyst, suspects something else might be at play.

“People don’t think the gas price (drop) is a long-term reality,” Mohtashami said. Despite government predictions to the contrary, he says, consumers aren’t adjusting their spending to a new normal, and instead they’re holding onto their cash for the next rise in prices.

Again, that kind of pessimism is sensible, and it’s good for personal bank accounts, but it’s not so good for growing the economy.

How much are you saving thanks to lower gas prices? What are you doing with the “raise?” saving or paying down debt? Planning a better vacation? Driving a gas-guzzler more often? Let me know in the comments, or email me at bob@credit.com.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Leisure

Casino Revenues Surge as Gas Prices Fall

MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Detroit at night, Michigan.
Benjamin Beytekin—dpa/AP Images

Long-struggling regional casinos have been enjoying a surge in gambling revenues, seemingly out of the blue. Could cheap gas have something to do with it?

Regional casinos—the kind that people typically drive to for a night, rather than fly in for the weekend—seem to have been victims of their own success. As casino revenues increased for years, more and more states wanted in on the action and began welcoming casinos and other gaming venues in order to (hopefully) haul in big bucks by taxing all the money streaming through these places. At some point in recent years, however, observers began worrying that many regions had reached a casino saturation point, the marker at which gambling revenues would level off because there simply aren’t enough customers around to keep throwing money at these establishments.

In 2014, many casinos saw revenues go flat, and a handful of casinos went out of business in spots that were once regional gambling magnets, Mississippi and Atlantic City. Yet as 2014 came to a close and 2015 began, the tables seem to have turned for many casinos around the country.

Five of the six casinos in the St. Louis area reported bringing in more revenues in January 2015 than they did the year before. Detroit’s three casinos collectively saw gambling revenues rise 15% last month compared with January 2014. Even in Connecticut, where the casino business has been on the decline for years largely thanks to increased competition, gambling revenues are on the upswing lately.

In Atlantic City, meanwhile, in January the eight casinos still in business took in revenues that were 19% higher than the same month in 2014. Even when the four A.C. casinos that were open in January 2014 but are now closed are factored in, Atlantic City’s overall gambling revenues are up nearly 1% compared with a year ago—and again, that’s with four fewer casinos to work with.

What’s behind the seemingly sudden surge in casino gambling? Many observers point to low gas prices as a key factor. The late 2014 gambling increase just so happened to coincide with ever cheaper gas prices at the pump. To many, this was no coincidence at all. In other words, the idea is that people have been taking the money they’re “saving” on cheaper gas and driving it on over to the slot machines and table games at their nearby casino.

In late January, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that two notable gaming analysts were forecasting rebounds in 2015 for regional casinos, in particular in the South and Midwest. “Several data points have developed which could point to the beginning of a recovery,” said Morgan Stanley gaming analyst Thomas Allen.

According to Allen, regional casinos have noticed that business has picked up especially among lower-income customers—the demographic that’s most likely to feel the impact of cheaper gas prices and, presumably, act on it.

Data cited by the Baltimore Sun, indicating that Maryland casino revenues have declined for two months in a row, might seem to blow a hole in the theory that cheaper gas is playing a major role in increased casino gambling. Yet Maryland’s casino revenues were soaring in late summer and autumn 2014 thanks largely to the opening of the new Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in August. It appears as if the novelty of the new casino has worn off, and indeed, Maryland’s revenues in December ($85.6 million) and January ($84.9 million) were down slightly compared with the all-time high hit in November ($90.2 million). In fact, Maryland’s overall casino revenues in January 2015 are up $18 million, or 28%, compared to the same month a year ago (when there was one fewer casino). So it’s too simple to state that the state’s gambling revenues are on the decline.

In any event, if there is some credence to the concept that low gas prices are giving local casinos a bump in business, these gambling havens may not be the beneficiaries of cheap fuel bills for long. If you haven’t noticed, gas prices have been climbing swiftly in February, although they’re still plenty cheap enough to justify a quick road trip. Now, where might you go?

MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Spike More Than 20¢ Per Gallon Overnight

The price of gas is displayed in downtown Midland on February 4, 2015 in Midland, Texas.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The national average for a gallon of regular is up 10¢ over the past three days, and in some parts of the country, prices jumped more than 20¢ overnight.

What was a slow rebound in gas prices at stations around the U.S. has picked up the pace significantly over the past few days. Last week, the national average bottomed out at $2.03 per gallon, before inching up to $2.05 on Monday, according to AAA. It then spiked up to $2.11 on Wednesday and $2.15 today.

Drivers in certain parts of the country have seen gas prices increase in alarmingly quick fashion, far outpacing the rise in the national average. In central Ohio, for instance, the average price for a gallon of regular was $2.26 on Wednesday, up from $2.04 the day before. As of Thursday, AAA reports that the statewide per-gallon average in Ohio is up to $2.27.

The gas-price tracking service GasBuddy reported that 26 metropolitan areas in the U.S. saw spikes of 15¢ or more per gallon from Tuesday to Wednesday of this week. Michigan has been hit especially hard: Eight out of the nation’s top 15 highest price increases in occurred in the state, including the three largest spikes. Up until last week, Michigan had enjoyed five straight weeks of sub-$2 gas; at last check, the statewide average was $2.28.

Meanwhile, drivers in states where the average has been under $2 for weeks should reacclimate themselves with having to pay more at the pump: The averages in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming have all inched up back to within two or three pennies of the $2 threshold.

Even if prices continue to creep higher in the short term, however, drivers won’t necessarily be subjected to ever-higher prices at the pump in the months ahead. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal noted, U.S. oil stockpiles rose unexpectedly to 6.3 million barrels—which is the highest it’s been at this time of year in at least eight decades. When there’s a surplus of oil, wholesale prices drop, and that generally translates to a subsequent drop in retail prices at gas stations.

No one knows for sure where gas prices are heading, but even after the recent spike, drivers in many parts of the country are still paying less than $2 per gallon—an absolute bargain compared to 2011, 2012, and 2013, when the year-long national averages were $3.49 or higher. And most signs indicate that prices won’t be heading back to those kinds of levels anytime soon.

MONEY Autos

Car Ownership Has Peaked—or Maybe It Hasn’t

new cars on the lot
Per-Anders Pettersson—Getty Images

After a strong January for the auto industry, forecasts call for rising car sales in 2015—followed by more increases in the years ahead. So what's this business about already hitting "Peak Car"?

Based on research from the asset management firm Schroders, Quartz recently made the case that “the Western world’s century-old love affair with the automobile is coming to an end.”

By and large, the data indicate that people around the world—young people in particular—are driving less, less interested in owning cars, and even less likely to bother getting driver’s licenses. In light of such statistics, the argument is that America, and perhaps the world as a whole, has reached the marker that’s been dubbed as “Peak Car,” the point at which car sales and ownership and driving in general go no higher.

“Our research illustrates that for the past decade the developed world has shown signs of hitting ‘peak car,’ a plateau or peak in vehicle ownership and usage,” the Schroders study states plainly.

At the same time, however, Automotive News and others point this week to the new IHS report forecasting that global auto sales will hit 88.6 million in 2015, which would mean a 2.4% increase over 2014 and would mark the fifth year in a row of increasing car sales. Not all parts of the world are expected to be buying more vehicles: Despite cheap gas prices, car sales in South America, Russia, and Western Europe are likely to be underwhelming. Yet strong sales are anticipated by IHS in North America and China, bringing about a “slower, not lower” overall rise in the auto market globally.

Car dealership sales in the northeastern U.S. were likely hurt in January due to major snowstorms, and yet just-reported auto sales for the month have been impressive. It’s expected that automakers will post brag-worthy sales increases of 14% or more, compared with the same period a year ago. At such a pace, total sales for the year could reach 17 million.

IHS’s forecast calls for light-vehicle sales of 16.9 million in the U.S. in 2015, and that might be on the low side. “With a strong exit to 2014, and gasoline prices currently plunging, consumers may feel even more positive throughout 2015,” an IHS statement said. And the IHS report calls for higher sales tallies going forward, with predictions of 17.2 million U.S. car sales in 2016 and 17.5 million in 2017. If that last prediction is realized, it would mean a new peak for the nation, which experienced what was then an all-time high of 17.4 million sales in 2000.

In other words, IHS researchers are saying that neither the U.S. nor the world has reached Peak Car, and that from the looks of things we won’t hit that point for years to come. The Economist has also made the case that, despite millennials’ apparent preference for urban living and lack of enthusiasm for driving and car ownership, “it is not clear that declining car ownership among young urbanites will have more than a marginal effect on overall car sales,” and that Peak Car “still seems quite a long way off.”

The researchers at Schroders and IHS can’t both be right. So who is wrong? Well, we should point out that one of Schroders’ graphs illustrates how consumer interest in buying cars has rebounded across all age groups since the Great Recession ended. Also, some of Schroders’ data is dated: The most recent drivers’ license statistics are from 2010, for instance, while the numbers reflecting a rising propensity to buy cars in the U.S. go no further than 2012.

On the other hand, there are compelling, data-driven arguments that millennials will never love automobiles as much as car-crazed Baby Boomers, that the average number of vehicles owned per driver (or household) will never be as high as it once was, and that people all over the world will be out on the roads less year after year thanks partly to smartphones, e-commerce, car sharing, and other technologies. At the same time, it sure looks like auto sales will be on the rise globally and in the U.S. in 2015, and the year after that, and the year after that, and … who knows?

If Google and/or Uber manage to create and perfect a practical driverless taxi in the near future, all bets—and forecasts—could be off.

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