In last Friday's trading, WTI crude oil approached triple digit territory but failed to close above $100 per barrel. As shown in the blue line in the chart below, the commodity briefly traded above the century mark back in late December, but it quickly retreated. With that resistance in place, traders may want to wait for crude to get back above $100 before trying to play it from the long side.
Higher crude oil prices are definitely not a positive for most investors (unless they are long crude). Therefore, the key to watch is how crude oil prices impact prices at the pump. According to AAA, the national average price of gasoline rose to $3.294 per gallon over the weekend. While this is still considerably lower than where prices were at this time last year ($3.604 per gallon) and right in the middle of the range since the start of the fourth quarter, the direction is just as important as the level. As shown in the chart below, gasoline prices have been quietly trending higher since their lows in early November. That coupled with the already rising price of crude oil could pose a bad mix for the already weak consumer sector in the first quarter.
One caveat here, though, is that while WTI crude oil prices have been strong recently (+8.8% since 1/13), Brent crude oil prices have seen smaller gains (2.4% since 1/13). Gas prices have historically been more closely correlated to the price of Brent as opposed WTI crude, so the fact that Brent prices are not up by as much is a bit of a silver lining.