CAMARILLO, Calif. — On Sept. 25, the U.S. average retail price of regular grade gasoline was $2.2521 per gallon, and retailers' average margin on regular is 28.36 cents, according to the most recent Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets. The street price is down one penny since Sept. 11. Retail margin lost has close to half the gain it exhibited between Aug. 21-Sept. 11.
Once again, margin volatility has out-swung price volatility. Yet consumer perception, and even that of plenty of economists, is still commonly of gasoline retailers living under some sort of fixed amount to live on. Like a utility.
Pump prices appear positioned to drop further. The factors pointing to more substantial retail price declines remain in place. As stated in this column (Sept. 14 and Aug. 24), September's seasonal demand drop-off would be accentuated by persistence of widespread school closures, and that has occurred, and heavy unemployment claims are adding to demand weakness, both of which may well worsen in October. On top of that, in some states, hurricane and storm waters action have pummeled gasoline consumption.
Crude oil prices increased some in these two weeks, but the rises in West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent equated to near total reversals of earlier declines. And now various world oil markets are concerned with possible further demand destruction from some governments' anti-pandemic actions that translate to weaker prices. The upshot is that currently, oil prices are not likely to prevent further retail gasoline price cutting in the United States, leaving the still-oversupplied market free to respond to poor demand.
The fact that the current average street price is a discount of 47.43 cents per gallon (CPG) below its year-ago point is an encouragement for demand, but unemployment and hindered activity—even near-lockdowns—still present in parts of the country are bigger factors.
Retail gasoline margin shrank 5.3 cents since Sept. 11, as the overall wholesale price rose 4.3 CPG. In the U.S. Gulf region and only in that region, during the one-week period Sept. 21-25, there has been a dramatic crash in the average branded rack price: down 22.14 cents, landing at a stunningly low $1.3266 per gallon. Retail margin in the Gulf states is at the moment less than half the U.S. average.
Norfolk and Miami stand out with deep cuts into regular-grade margin. Since Sept. 11 Norfolk's average retail price slipped 1.83 cents, its weighted wholesale price climbed 11.6 cents, deflating margin by nearly half to just 13.43 CPG.
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Trilby Lundberg is publisher of the Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets.