Oil Prices ‘Wait-and-See’

The U.S. downstream enters the sun
gas station lundberg
Photograph: Shutterstock

The national average retail price of regular-grade gasoline added another dime in the past two weeks, as it continues its up-trajectory that has lasted 15 weeks so far. The April 19 average price is 9.83 cents per gallon (CPG) higher than it was two weeks ago, at $3.7718 according to the most recent Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets. The dramatic rise since January 5 is 59.25 CPG. It is 1.9 cents higher than a year ago.

Meanwhile the U.S. average retail diesel fuel price moved up a penny, to $4.1745, and sits 14.24 CPG higher than its year-ago point. This is a hit on trucking, and hikes prices of nearly all goods moved to consumers.

Crude oil prices actually dropped in past two weeks, as they came down from the recent peak which was on April 5 at $86.91 per barrel. They declined to $82.69 by April 17, then recovered some to $83.14 on April 14. Brent, the other light grade benchmark globally, showed a similar pattern. Despite the greatly heightened oil supply fears of the latest days due to Iran and Israel each attacking interior points within the borders of each other’s countries, a new trigger point for the market, oil prices remained in “wait-and-see” mode as very little physical damage was done. It was significant for the market’s concerns about world oil supply that Ukraine made several attacks on petroleum facilities in Russia.

At the same time, U.S. refiners continued shouldering higher costs for supplying Spring and Summer gasoline formulations. The higher-priced, lower-vapor pressure product is being rolled out nationally as it is each year.

Both sectors of the U.S. downstream oil industry, refiners and retailers, experienced gasoline margin improvements in the past two weeks. This is a reason that lower oil prices did not immediately cause a decline in gasoline prices, after refiners and retailers had each suffered big losses in gasoline margin over extended periods.

The national average retail margin on regular grade gained a big 12.74 CPG in the two weeks ending April 19. On this date it sits at 36.08 CPG. Two examples of margin recovery: Los Angeles and Miami. Los Angeles retailers enjoyed a bump of 19.15 cents in the two weeks, from narrow 31.72 cents, to 50.87 cents in our current snapshot. In Miami, margin had been a measly 11.71 cents on April 5, then regained nicely to 31.10 two weeks later. In both cases, the weighted average wholesale price fell (10.85 cents in Los Angeles, 9.42 cents in Miami) while the average retail price rose (8.67 in Los Angeles, 9.97 cents in Miami) in pass-through of prior yikes at the racks and in dealer tankwagon.

In the very short term, if oil pries remain relatively stable and gasoline supply continues to be sufficient for demand, any further retail gasoline price increase may be smaller than the dime just seen.                                                                                                                     

Click here for previous Lundberg Survey reports in CSP Daily News.

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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