U.S. gasoline exports overshadow strong production

A federal report sees consumer demand for gasoline more or less flat because prices at the pump are higher than last year and employment gains are slow to materialize.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Aug. 17, 2017 at 10:25 AM
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Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The production of gasoline in the United States is near a record high, though supply levels are under pressure from exports, a federal report said.

"Gasoline production by U.S. refiners and blenders has run near record levels over the first seven months of 2017, with four-week rolling average production well above its five-year average and close to the top of its five-year range," a daily brief from the U.S. Energy Information Administration read.

Motor club AAA reports a national average retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline at $2.34 for Thursday, about 2 cents less than one week ago. The summer travel season in the United States, which runs through September, usually leads to higher gas prices because of demand pressure and today's price is about 8 cents, or 4 percent, higher than one month ago.

Despite the seasonal spike, the EIA said the price at the pump has been more or less stable. The range over the last 52 weeks, as of Aug. 7, has been the narrowest in more than a decade.

The price per gallon is still about 10 percent higher than this time last year. One possible reason is because the United States is exporting more gasoline, which offsets some of the expected gains from growing domestic production.

"Estimated gasoline exports have remained relatively high so far in 2017, and as of August 11, were about 222,000 barrels per day higher than the previous five-year average," EIA explained.

That comes as the estimate for total yearly motor gasoline consumption remains on par with 2016. EIA said the even forecast for gasoline production reflects slow growth on the labor front and gains in retail gas prices. Consumption growth next year is estimated to be only 0.3 percent higher than the projected level for 2017.

Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst for GasBuddy, told UPI that gasoline inventories are still more or less at the average for this time of year and based his assessment on broader market dynamics.

"Gasoline is highly likely to take direction from crude oil, so while high production should mean lower prices, it's actually reducing oil inventories, and future gasoline prices may feed more off future oil prices, and thus reflect oil's supply and demand balance," he said.

Analysts are mixed on the possible forward trends for retail gasoline prices as the summer demand seasons winds down. EIA estimates a national average price during the summer driving season at $2.37 per gallon and a full-year average of $2.33 per gallon.

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