Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Gasoline prices rise, but still near five-year low

You undoubtedly noticed that gasoline prices have rebounded  from their lows of late winter, a time I actually gassed up my Subaru for less than $20 and the first time it happened since I can't remember who was president.

According to an AAA report released Monday, the national average price of gas has increased for 26 of the previous 27 days to $2.66 per gallon, which is the highest average of the year. Drivers are paying about four cents more per gallon than one week ago and 27 cents more per gallon than one month ago.

Today’s national average is about a dollar less than a year ago and is at the cheapest level for this date since 2009.

AAA predicts that automotive travel this Memorial Day holiday will be up 5.3 percent (33 million travelers) compared to last year’s holiday weekend, which would be the highest volume in ten years. Gas prices may not change all that much by the holiday weekend, which would result in the cheapest Memorial Day gas prices in at least five years.

Regional refinery issues on the West Coast continue to push prices higher in a handful of states, with the majority of the nation’s most expensive markets located in the region. California ($3.72) is the nation’s most expensive retail gasoline market, and is joined by four other states posting averages of $3 or more per gallon: Hawaii ($3.23), Nevada ($3.22), Alaska ($3.15) and Oregon ($3.00). The price at the pump is above $2.50 per gallon in 36 states and Washington, D.C. On the other end of the spectrum, motorists in South Carolina ($2.37), Missouri ($2.39) and Mississippi ($2.40) are the paying the lowest averages at the pump, although they too have seen prices inch upward since last week’s report.

Drivers in 49 states and Washington, D.C. are paying more to refuel their vehicles versus one week ago. Twenty-two states are paying a nickel or more per gallon, led by Utah, Wyoming and South Dakota with week-over-week increases of nine cents per gallon. The only state to buck this trend is Michigan, where the average price fell by six cents per gallon over this same period.

Month-over-month, the price has moved higher in every state and Washington, D.C. by a dime or more per gallon.  Pump prices are up by a quarter or more in 22 states, with the largest monthly increases taking place in the western United States. Consumers in California (+61 cents), Nevada (+44 cents), Utah (+39 cents) and Arizona (+39 cents) have seen the largest increases over this period, due largely to the refinery issues in the region.

Although motorists nationwide continue to pay significantly lower gas prices, rising averages are beginning to erode savings in a number of states.  Prices are lower by a dollar or more in 30 states and Washington, D.C. year-over-year, which is 11 states fewer than one week ago. Consumers in Ohio (-$1.23), Michigan (-$1.18) and Kentucky (-$1.15) are saving the most per gallon compared to this same date last year.

The price of crude has moved higher since the middle of March due to slowing U.S. production, a weakening U.S. dollar and speculation of demand growth from China. Despite the price increase, many market watchers believe that the recent rally may be nearing an end due to oversupply continuing to characterize the global market, effectively putting a ceiling on how high the price can go. The global oil cartel OPEC appears to be maintaining its strategy of high production levels and is scheduled to convene in June to reassess supply quotas, but in the meantime all eyes remain on U.S. production levels based on its new position as swing producer.

The domestic benchmark WTI posted a weekly gain for the seventh consecutive week but remains significantly below the 2014 high of $107.95 per barrel. At the close of formal trading on the NYMEX, WTI settled 45 cents higher at $59.39 per barrel.