Two weeks ago, we asked whether oil prices would be breaking out of their $10 per barrel price range.
- Click here to read Will Oil Break From Its Price Inertia?
They didn’t. In the past two weeks, both U.S. and European light crude benchmark prices showed very little change, according to the most recent Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets. In the case of West Texas Intermediate’s near-month futures price, it stayed well within the range it has called home for most of 2023, $70-$80 per barrel. In fact, the Jan. 19 closing price at $73.41 was down a mere 40 cents per barrel from its Jan. 5 price.
Likewise, retail gasoline was a virtual no-change from two weeks ago.
The Jan. 19 average regular grade price is $3.1830, up a tiny 0.37 cents per gallon (CPG) from its Jan. 5 level. But, it was a rise after all, after 15 weeks of extreme price-cutting amounting to 80.36 cents.
(Premium grade rose a more decisive 0.73 cents during the two weeks.)
Whether the retail gasoline market will rise or fall from here is unknown, but there is a good chance that it will change little in the near future if that is what happens to oil prices.
The new element is weather, which has hobbled some U.S. refining capacity (and oil production and pipeline movement) thanks to power outage, frozen equipment or both; however, consumer demand for refined products is also prone to hobbling during extreme weather, so it can’t be known whether gasoline supply will be in reasonable balance or not while storms and their aftermath wreak their havoc.
For the moment, consumers face a retail price, on average, that is 27.18 CPG below its year-ago point, a help to hard-pressed motorists feeling financial pain regardless of the sunny reports of a strong economy.
Refiner margin is still a major potential factor for price increases as it remains extremely depressed after a very modest recovery since early January.
Retail margin lost 4.17 cents and is now 34.56 cents. Over the past nine weeks, it has gotten 17.55 cents skinnier. In these two weeks, Chicago margin shrank more, some 8.46 cents. The Jan. 19 average retail margin on regular grade in huge chilly Chicago is 40.87 cents.
It is painfully modest to governments’ “take,” which on Jan. 19 is $1.0733. (That’s our precisely weighted calculation of federal, state and multiple local taxes.) It is the highest in Lundberg’s surveys.
Also in these two weeks, Houston got punched in the face, with timing factors putting the average regular grade margin at just 2.62 CPG.
Trilby Lundberg is publisher of the Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets. Lundberg Survey Inc. is based in Camarillo, California.
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