OPINIONRetailer News

Strong Gasoline Margin Recovery

Small pump price gain
Photograph: Shutterstock

CAMARILLO, Calif. — The national average retail price of regular-grade gasoline edged up 1.63 cents per gallon (CPG) in the past three weeks, after barely moving at all during unusual stability for more than a month, according to the most recent Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets.

The September 11 average price is $2.2621 per gallon. It sits 36.86 cents below its year-ago point.

But retail gasoline margin widened an impressive 11.62 CPG since Aug. 21. It is now 33.67 CPG, a level not seen since early May. Last Spring, margin shot up in the midst of the pandemic-driven extreme demand crash and resulting price plunge. This current margin resurgence is similarly situated in deteriorating demand and lower prices, but this time retailers on average were able to hang on to wholesale buying price advantage.

Overall, the weighted national average wholesale price of regular grade fell by 9.97 CPG while the retail price gained a little, delivering substantial retail margin improvement. In the same three-week period, crude oil prices declined, with West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent averaging the equivalent of about 11 CPG drop, outdone by futures gasoline.

As always, a great range exists behind the U.S. average retail, with pump prices falling in many markets including Indianapolis, Chicago and Denver, while rising notably in Norfolk, Va., Miami and Newark, N.J. A very wide range in wholesale price margin change also appears; Newark's wholesale price increased less than 2 cents and its margin gain was modest. In Phoenix, both wholesale and retail prices changed very little and margin lost nearly half a cent on average. Norfolk's weighted wholesale price dove down 14.22 cents, retail climbed 10.48 cents, translating to an apparent margin gain of 24.7 cents. Norfolk margin is in healthy territory after sitting at just 17.4 cents on Aug. 21.

Nationally, to hang on to some of all of the recent retail margin improvement, or to enjoy some improvement from here among those left out of this two-week recovery, is desirable—but efforts will be challenged by price cutting on the street this month. Soft seasonal gasoline demand will worsen thanks to closed schools, the arrival of higher vapor pressure allowed gives refiners a cost break, and any further pass-through of recent oil price declines will feed rack price cutting. Those down price factors are all meeting up with continuing oversupply of product.

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

Trilby Lundberg is publisher of the Lundberg Survey of U.S. fuel markets.

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