Retail gasoline selling for a bargain

Gas lower, but not for very much longer as refiners prepare to switch to summer blend.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Feb. 9, 2016 at 8:20 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Retail gasoline price movements may buck historic trends and not move up dramatically on seasonal pressures, motor club AAA reports.

Retail gasoline prices fell on average about a half percent overnight to $1.73 nationally for a gallon of regular unleaded. The price is 12.6 percent, or 25 cents, less than one month ago and 20 percent, or 45 cents, lower than this date in 2015.

Lower crude oil prices are in part behind much of the decline in retail gasoline prices. Low prices last year led to unplanned refinery outages in the Midwest, pushing prices in the region far above the national average.

Winter is usually characterized by lower demand as inclement weather keeps traffic volumes suppressed. By February, demand starts to pick up and refiners start preparing to make a summer blend of gasoline, which is more expensive to make because of additional environmental safeguards needed during warmer months. This usually combines to make February the point where retail gas prices start moving higher.

"Unlike previous years, both gasoline and crude oil supplies are at record levels and two of the nation's more volatile markets, the Midwest and the West, are both reporting ample supply," AAA said in a weekly retail market report. "The convergence of these factors may point to a possible shift in the status quo, provided crude oil prices remain relatively low and absent any major disruptions in supply or production."

Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy, said gasoline inventories in January were at their highest levels since 1990, leaving refiners with extra volumes of winter-blended gas that will need to be unloaded soon. This in turn should lead to "basement prices" at the pump for most consumers.

Oklahoma has the lowest state average in the nation at $1.40 per gallon. A quarter of all retail stations in the United States are posting prices at or below $1.50 per gallon. In the short-term, DeHaan said to expect gasoline prices to move even lower.

"But don't get too relaxed- the shift in specifications will lead to an eventual lift in prices once winter gasoline is gone," he said in an emailed statement.

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