Business View: Want to know why petrol's so pricey? Ask George Bush

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One of the few advantages of The Independent on Sunday's location in an obscure part of Docklands is that we are just around the corner from the largest Asda in London. This allows me to pick up cheap and cheerful kids' clothes, survey the George at Asda range (which bears little relation to what Marks & Spencer wants to flog, making the appointment of Asda's Kate Bostock as head of M&S womenswear rather brave), and fill up my car for less than anywhere else I know.

One of the few advantages of The Independent on Sunday's location in an obscure part of Docklands is that we are just around the corner from the largest Asda in London. This allows me to pick up cheap and cheerful kids' clothes, survey the George at Asda range (which bears little relation to what Marks & Spencer wants to flog, making the appointment of Asda's Kate Bostock as head of M&S womenswear rather brave), and fill up my car for less than anywhere else I know.

Even so, by Friday the price at Asda's pumps was edging 80p a litre. As I don't do a great many miles, I'm not ready to man the barricades. But I do want to blame someone for this sudden, irritating rise.

Now I've found him. He's called George Bush.

Before you go, "Not another tirade about the Iraq war", let me explain that this is a much more targeted complaint. According to an excellent analysis by our occasional columnist, Mark Tinker of Execution Stockbrokers, it appears the answer to the oil price crisis is in the US President's hands - or more exactly, in his reserves.

The US has a Strategic Oil Reserve, which it builds up to protect America against potential shocks, such as the strikes in Venezuela 18 months ago. Since November 2001 the Department of Energy has been buying up 200,000 barrels a day on the open market, while the Federal Reserve is also bolstered by payments in oil which the US receives through certain trade deals.

According to Mr Tinker, the Reserve currently holds 659 million barrels and is contracted to receive another 18 million. At current purchasing rates the Reserve will reach its limit of 700 million barrels by October.

Given that Brent crude was touching $39 a barrel last week and West Texas Intermediate sold at over $41 a barrel, might it be a good idea for Dubya to tell his Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham, to stop slurping up all this oil? He shows no sign of doing so.

The cynic in me wonders whether the Republican strategists are waiting for a moment to release some of the reserve. Back in 1991, at the start of the first Gulf War, the President's father, who was then in the White House himself, engineered a near-halving of the oil price by stating he was going to sell 2.5 million barrels a day from the strategic reserve. A similar move could create a pre-election boom and send John Kerry packing.

Logic dictates it will happen relatively soon. At which point the oil price will fall back to sensible levels. But I'll still buy my petrol at Asda.

End of the Piers show

Piers Morgan's departure will not be mourned in the City. Though his standing in the media world was generally high and he made the Daily Mirror lively and interesting, he didn't manage to stop the inexorable decline in circulation that has plagued the paper for three decades. Nor did he manage to shrink the gap between it and The Sun. Indeed, despite Mr Morgan's talents and ambitions, the most dynamic move in this market has been by Richard Desmond's lean and mean Daily Star.

Piers' protector these past couple of years has been Trinity Mirror chairman Sir Victor Blank who, only a few days ago, was telling people privately that he expected Mr Morgan to survive this current furore. The word out of Canary Wharf is that Trinity Mirror's chief executive, Sly Bailey, finds Mr Desmond's aversion to costs rather attractive and has been waiting for Mr Morgan to go so she can swing the axe.

It will be interesting to see how Ms Bailey now addresses the long-term decline. Under Mr Morgan the tendency was to fight - with more editorial expenditure, a magazine (which had but a short life) and a disastrous price war. There is an argument that you should embrace the decline, pare back the editorial and run the newspaper for the undoubted cash it can produce. This would help with one of Trinity Mirror's big strategic issues, which is its high debt levels. The other issue, whether national and regional titles sit well together, is only likely to be addressed when the architect of the Trinity Mirror experiment, Sir Victor, decides he's had enough of being a press baron and retires.

j.nisse@independent.co.uk

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