Retail Margin Back in the Dumps

Crude price hikes on their way to street, says Lundberg

CAMARILLO, Calif. -- The U.S. average retail price of gasoline is $3.5908 per gallon for regular, down 0.61 cents per gallon from three weeks ago, according to the most recent Lundberg Survey of approximately 2,500 U.S. gas stations. The average price has slipped nearly seven cents over the past two months.

But due to higher oil prices, the price on the street is being directed upward. Refiners have already passed through into wholesale gasoline most of the oil price hikes they received. Jobbers and retailers are now in the midst of passing them through to motorists.

Refiners lost some of their margin on gasoline, but retailers lost most of theirs. In the past three weeks, the U.S. average retail margin on regular grade sank from an attractive 21.63 cents to less than six cents, such was the speed of wholesale gasoline price hikes. Retailers will need to seek some recovery quickly, perhaps a dime's worth at the pump.

There is plenty of gasoline supply, and U.S. refiners are running at elevated rates of capacity. So crude oil, as usual, will determine the direction of gasoline prices. If the geopolitical stress on oil markets heats up, there will be an added layer of price hikes to work their way through to consumers. Even if oil prices retreat from here, we may still see a few cents' rise at the pump as retailers move to prevent financial capsize.

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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