Market Report: Forget Fed Fund Futures, Oil Is Key

Ben Bernanke spoke yesterday and the oil market listened. Of course listening to Ben Bernanke and his comment about the price of oil made one wonder whether or not Big Ben gave traders the green light to buy oil. Among other things that the Fed Chairman said about the economy was that the current price of oil was not a threat to the economy. "At this point oil prices are not a serious threat to the recovery," Bernanke told a Congressional Committee. "Clearly if it moves a lot it would be a negative, so we have to watch it."

Of course they have to watch it. If oil prices spin out of control it could endanger an economic recovery which begs the question, at what point does Bernanke see oil prices as a threat? Obviously that is a difficult question as the price of oil can move higher comfortably as long as it accompanies strong economic growth.

With Mr. Bernanke basking in the light of some strong data and earnings, it seems the oil price right now is a concern but not a major one. My guess is that Mr. Bernanke's point of pain on oil is $90 for the rest of the year. That means that instead of watching Fed fund futures for an estimate of when interest rates will raise, perhaps we'd do better to watch the crude oil curve.

If we see oil go solidly above $90 a barrel then perhaps that would be the month we would expect a rate increase. Which means according to the oil market price with the December contract trading currently at 8990, there is an approximate 98 percent chance the Fed will raise rates in December and with January at 9006, a more than 100% chance they will increase early next year. If the front month oil contract goes solidly over $90, the pressure on the Fed would be enormous to try to do something despite the subdued core inflation rate.