Retail Prices Slip, Margin Steady

Factors seem to be offsetting one another, but "downs" have edge, says Lundberg

CAMARILLO, Calif. -- Regular grade retail gasoline prices slipped 3.2 cents in the past two weeks to $3.7074 per gallon. The combined drop over four weeks is 8.76 cents, according to the most recent Lundberg Survey of approximately 2,500 U.S. gas stations.

More encouragement for consumers--the discount that the current price is under the year-ago point: 22.23 cents.

As more of the cheaper U.S. crude oils have been coming to market aiding refiners' margins and ability to cut wholesale prices, now the European light crude benchmark Brent also fell in price.

Beyond crude oil, a secondary reason for retail price slips is the comeback by U.S. refiners after completing maintenance and repair projects ahead of the strong gasoline demand season. For example, in California, where several refineries suffered partial shutdown for work, the average retail price crashed just more than 12 cents per gallon since March 8, to $4.0305 on March 22.

As usual, there is a very wide array of influences pulling crude oil and product prices both up and down, nationally as well as from offshore.

Currently, the many price factors seem to be approximately offsetting one another, but the "downs" appear to have the edge, suggesting a few more cents' drop at the pump.

Refining margin on gasoline slipped a little from two weeks ago, and retail margin on gasoline was a virtual no-change. Both downstream sectors are faring far better than they were in January. Retail margin has swelled from single-digits on regular a few weeks ago to more than 18 cents per gallon for the past month.

Camarillo, Calif.-based Lundberg Survey Inc. is an independent market research company specializing in the U.S. petroleum marketing and related industries.

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