Prices To Keep Falling; Notes on Market Manipulation

Comment on the June 15 posting:  No reset to $3.79.  Reports of a reset to $3.69 yesterday that didn’t pan out.  I guess the retailers were thinking out loud, too.

Friday, June 24, 10:10AM:  A couple of related items today:

1.  Wholesale oil and gas prices really took a hit yesterday, putting the 0-cent margin price at about $3.30.  With prices way above that number, look for markdowns all weekend.  That’s a prediction!

2.  One big contributor to the drop in prices was Pres. Obama’s decision to release oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve.  While there is debate about whether or not this is a good idea from the point of energy security, in terms of manipulating the market, this was a great move.  Oil was already dropping in price this month, and this was the type of decision that will scare some of the speculators out of oil contracts, which should drop the price further, at least short term.  What Pres. Obama’s administration should do next is then buy back the oil at the cheaper price, which would make money for the taxpayer for once.

3.  In a way, this is all disturbing though.  Here is a nice quote by Robert Prechter (brought to my attention by Peter Atwater) that captures what I have been harping on for quite a while — that the energy markets are broken:  “There is an entirely different pricing dynamic for assets purchased for their fundamental utility value versus assets purchased for their investment potential. When the price of a good or service rises, fewer people buy it, and when its price falls, more people buy it. This response allows pricing to keep supply and demand in balance. In contrast, when the price of an investment rises, more people buy it, and when the price falls, fewer people buy it. This behavior is not an occasional financial market anomaly; it always happens.”  And this is our problem, as oil and gas has become an investment rather than a good.

4.  Which brings us to the news that federal regulators have started a new investigation into whether oil companies and refiners have manipulated markets, raising oil prices to their benefit.  My feeling about this is that they probably are not — that #3 above better explains what is going on. At the same time, because the markets are broken, it wouldn’t be difficult for oil companies and refiners to manipulate the market.  The solution, rather than arrest people for following the rules of a broken game, is to change the rules.  For example:  for any energy futures contract, the product must be delivered at expiration.  That is, if you buy an oil futures contract, you have to buy the oil when the future expires.  That will close the casino!   — Ed Aboufadel

Updated: June 24, 2011 — 9:20 am

13 Comments

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  1. The freelancer who writes daily about gas prices for the Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper does a consistently poor job (his articles are unprofessional, uninformed, and like blog entries), but he did claim to document a non-Speedway increase in the area on Thursday:

    “There was a curious rise in price by at least one station on Thursday, though. The Shell at the corner of South Westnedge Avenue and Romence Road went up 13 cents from $3.46 to $3.59. No other station near it increased its price, which means that the Shell is 21 cents higher than the Admiral or the Meijer stations only about two miles away.”

    http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2011/06/gas_prices_in_southwest_michig_61.html

    I don’t know how he was able to document this increase, other than personal observation of the previous price in person or on the website. He certainly didn’t write about it in his article the previous day.

    While I can’t confirm that increase, I have no reason to doubt it did happen. There are 5 Speedways and 1 Rich station in the vicinity of the Crossroads Shell. As all 5 of those Speedways were documented as having gone up, it’s not surprising to learn that this Shell may also have gone up.

    I can’t confirm the increase because I only pay attention to the prices at the very top and very bottom. I don’t generally notice stations in the middle that make a move lower than Speedway’s. It’s common for other stations to go up about half of Speedway’s increase on the day of and the rest of the way the following morning. Apart from days of Speedway’s big moves, some stations make moves up and down in the middle price ranges that I don’t notice or aren’t significant to document. All I care about are the prices on the top and bottom and what Speedway stations are doing.

    As far as the rest of this freelancer’s article, I take exception to the following lines:

    Article title: “Gas prices in Southwest Michigan don’t move that much”

    This is only true if you exclude the at least 10 Speedway stations that increased as much as 31¢ between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Kalamazoo/Portage, not to mention the rest of southwest Michigan. I feel this article title is entirely inaccurate and does not at all represent what occurred with local gas prices on Thursday. If I titled the article, it would be “Wild Morning For Local Gas Prices.”

    First sentence: “Outside of a couple of gas stations, there wasn’t much movement in Southwest Michigan gas prices over the past 24 hours.”

    This sentence has the same problem as the title of the article. The article also entirely neglects the IEA action that occurred on Thursday.

    “On Stadium Drive, the Roadhawk is $3.42, but the rest of the stations are around $3.48.”

    That Roadhawk price was the cash price. Anyone knowledgeable about Kalamazoo area gas prices knows the Stadium Dr. Roadhawk and Westnedge Ave. Clark are among the stations that post a cash discount price on their signs where the regular unleaded price normally goes. At these stations, the credit price for regular unleaded is posted where the mid-grade price is traditionally located. As about 75% of customers pay with credit/debit (according to the National Association of Convenience Stores), the cash discount price should not be used for comparison to other stations. The Roadhawk’s credit price is usually 1 or 2¢ higher than the price its competitors offer for both credit and cash.

    Because gas prices change so frequently, I think all of this freelancer’s sentences should be in the past tense rather than the present tense. I don’t know if any of these poorly written articles ever make it to print, but if they do, the prices are mostly outdated by that time. These prices are often outdated by the time most people read them on-line. Almost all these articles have time stamps of exactly 6:00 a.m. If that is correct, the information begins being outdated within 3 hours, as many stations make their daily price changes at the beginning of the business day, around 9 to 11 a.m. There are often price drops in the late afternoon around 2 p.m.

    The current (2:36 p.m.) price at the Crossroads Shell is $3.429, the 3rd highest price in Portage. The lowest prices in the Kalamazoo area are currently $3.339 in the vicinity of Westnedge and I-94. While that area traditionally has among the lowest gas prices in the area, construction on I-94 at Westnedge has probably given those stations additional incentive to have the lowest prices, because drivers have been avoiding that area because of the construction. Of course, that freelancer’s articles have never mentioned the construction being the reason why that area has always had the lowest prices lately. At $3.339, Kalamazoo/Portage prices have fallen as much as 76¢ since Wednesday, June 1. The current Kalamazoo average is $3.448.

    The Clark on Westnedge at Schuring is currently reported at $3.399, but I can’t tell if that is the credit price or the cash discount price. The Roadhawk on Stadium Dr. is currently reported at $3.429. That is also not identified as being the cash or credit price, but I’m more likely to believe it is the correct credit price since there are 3 stations on Stadium Dr. lower at $3.399. If it’s the incorrect cash price, the Roadhawk is usually the deceptively lowest. I’m all in favor of cash discount prices, but the credit prices are the ones that should be use for comparison among stations, since most stations do not offer a cash discount and most people pay with credit/debit.

    Regionally, Ohio has fallen to the second lowest state average in the nation, $3.346. Four Ohio metros. are among the 10 lowest: Toledo (4th lowest), Columbus (5th), Akron (8th), Dayton (10th).

  2. Prices are starting to fall to $3.299 in Kalamazoo/Portage, with the Admiral in Portage leading the way. At the moment, that Admiral is one of the lowest stations in Michigan, with all the rest being in the Lansing area and the Kroger in Lambertville near Toledo.

    This $3.299 means prices in the Kalamazoo area have now dropped as much as 90¢ since $4.199 on June 1. I only remembered today that the increase on June 1 was $4.199. In all my prior writings since that date, I mistakenly remembered $4.099 (the average price that following Sunday), so all my comments since June 1 until today are off by 10¢.

    Not surprisingly, $2.999 has been achieved at 4 stations in west Toledo (3 Speedways and 1 Costco). The Toledo average is $3.256, the 3th lowest in the nation. Right behind are Columbus, Akron, and Dayton with the 5th-7th lowest metro. averages in the nation. Ohio remains the second lowest in the nation at $3.330. Indiana is the 10th lowest in nation. The $2.999s in Toledo are the lowest in the nation, tied with a Citgo in Sugar Land, Texas also at $2.999.

    The BP in Romulus next to Detroit Metro. Airport has gone down to $3.999, making it tied for the 3rd highest reported price in Michigan. The highest reported price is $4.299 at the Citgo on Packard St. in Ann Arbor. I’ve seen that particular station on top before. I wonder what their excuse is? It’s near the airport, but several stations are closer and $3.559 to $3.699. Whatever the Cobblestone Farm and Museum is, that is what the Citgo is next to. It’s also next to the Georgetown Golf Course, so maybe they get a lot of rich people who don’t mind overpaying for gas?

    Here are current metro averages and ranges:

    $3.497 Grand Rapids, Michigan $3.419 (6 locations) to $3.599 (4)
    $3.421 Kalamazoo, Michigan $3.299 (1) to $3.549 (1)
    $3.383 Fort Wayne, Indiana $3.309 (5) to $3.529 (1)
    $3.331 Cincinnati, Ohio $3.239 (1) to $3.699 (1)

    $3.538 Michigan
    $3.405 Indiana
    $3.330 Ohio

  3. Toledo has achieved the lowest metro. average gas prices in the nation, $3.221. There are currently 4 stations at $2.979, 2 at $2.969, and 2 at $2.959. Indianapolis ($3.277) has fallen to the 9th lowest in the nation with 7 stations at $3.099.

    Lansing ($3.389) is still the lowest average in Michigan, but Kalamazoo/Portage ($3.399) currently claims the 5 lowest prices in Michigan ($3.259), after a Sam’s Club in Lansing and the Kroger in Lambertville ($2.999). There are 15 stations in Kalamazoo/Portage/Richland below today’s spike line of $3.3624. In Grand Rapids ($3.476), $3.399 is the lowest price available, at 10 stations in Kentwood and Grand Rapids SE.

  4. The Kroger in Lambertville has finally given up on competing with the nation’s lowest gas prices in Toledo and raised its price from $2.999 to $3.199, which is still the lowest price in Michigan. The Admiral in Portage is now in second place with $3.239 (12.34¢ below yesterday’s spike line). The bottom price in Toledo remains $2.959.

    The only other places in the nation where prices below $3 are reported are:

    * $2.999 at a membership-only club (Costco) in West Des Moines, Iowa. The second lowest prices in Iowa are $3.199.

    * Even more suspect is the $2.799 reported at AirPort Discount Gas in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The second lowest prices in Massachusetts after that are $3.439.

    Donate blood to Michigan Blood at locations around Michigan today through Thursday to receive a $5 Meijer gas card: http://www.miblood.org/

    Current price ranges and averages:

    $3.565 USA

    $3.459 Grand Rapids $3.399 (12 locations in Kentwood, Wyoming, and Grand Rapids SE) to $3.599 (2, Grand Rapids SW)

    $3.387 Kalamazoo $3.239 (Admiral in Portage) to $3.499 (2 in Paw Paw and 1 in Galesburg)

    $3.362 Fort Wayne $3.299 (5) to $3.539 (1)

    $3.309 Cincinnati $3.209 (1) to $3.799 (1 in Milford)

    New York gasoline is currently up 4.84¢ to $2.8559.

  5. Speedway is leading a charge up to $3.599 this Tuesday morning in west Michigan and $3.659 in east Michigan. The earliest report in Michigan was at 10:12 a.m. This is an increase of 36¢ from the lowest price currently available in Kalamazoo. From $4.199 on Wednesday, June 1, prices in Kalamazoo dropped as much as 96¢ to $3.239.

    I’ve written several times before that Speedway often goes up on the Tuesday before a major holiday weekend, when there is a need for a reset. This is one occasion where that is in fact true.

    Looks like the increase in Ohio is to $3.459 and $3.499 in Indianapolis.

    More current averages:

    $3.563 USA
    $3.505 Michigan
    $3.384 Kentucky
    $3.377 Lansing
    $3.364 Indiana
    $3.357 Fort Wayne
    $3.294 Ohio
    $3.279 to $3.289 Mount Sterling, Kentucky (actual prices)
    $3.265 Dayton
    $3.260 Indianapolis
    $3.252 Akron
    $3.228 Columbus
    $3.209 Toledo

  6. Here are some interesting, informative, long articles about refining operations in northwest Ohio:

    Marathon reborn a corporate giant – Marathon Petroleum Corp. will be spun off from Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp. this Thursday, becoming the 4th largest company in Ohio – http://www.toledoblade.com/business/2011/06/26/Marathon-reborn-a-corporate-giant.html

    Lima refinery marks sweet 125 – Facility oldest in state to run crude constantly – http://www.toledoblade.com/Energy/2011/06/05/Lima-refinery-marks-sweet-125.html

    I guess these refineries in and near Toledo give that area an advantage in having the lowest prices in Ohio. Toledo also used to be one end of a huge oil deposit that ran to central Indiana. Before the automobile, gasoline was considered a waste by-product of refining oil for kerosene.

  7. So much for no raise this week, however, that being said, funeral on the SE side of town, I got it for $3.34 @ Meijer on 44th & Stauffer. Good for another two weeks!!

  8. Yes, a 4 week price slide has ended. I see stations all over Fort Wayne going up to $3.499. I thought this “might” be coming this week, and when in Napoleon, Ohio Saturday, filled up and had taken the 5 gal mower can. I got gas @ the Pilot there for $3.229. Then this morning, I topped off my car for $3.299 at Circle K. I’m good for at least 10 days, maybe longer.

  9. Patrick says the cause of today’s 10.995¢ jump in the Chicago spot was caused by a shutdown of the Husky refinery in Lima, Ohio, that began yesterday. The shutdown may last 10 days, which would be until Friday, July 8. Here’s an article that confirms what Patrick said: http://www.cnbc.com/id/43569507

    Ohio’s state average has moved it from 2nd lowest in the nation to 4th lowest, so far. Only Columbus, Ohio remains in the lowest 10 metros. in the nation, for now. Former #1 Toledo has so far risen to 14th lowest in the nation. Kalamazoo currently shows the highest average increase in the nation, 13.2¢. I think this is largely because Kalamazoo is probably among the smallest cities an average is calculated for.

  10. Oil is currently up $2.04 to $94.93 and New York gasoline is currently up 8.29¢ to $2.9725. With the first named tropical storm of the season now in the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday before 10:12 a.m. was probably the lowest prices we’ll see until after Labor Day.

    Ohio has gone up to the 13th lowest gas prices in the nation, with a $3.414 average. Indiana is 17th lowest with $3.464. Michigan is the 18th highest with $3.574.

    Akron and Toledo are tied for the lowest metro in the Great Lakes, $3.388. Evansville, Indiana is close behind at $3.397. The lowest price now in Toledo is $3.109.

    The Kroger in Lambertville, Michigan has gone from $2.999 Monday to $3.199 yesterday morning to $3.459 today. The BP next to Detroit Metro Airport is still at $3.999, as of 7:01 this morning.

    Incredibly, the Admiral on Westnedge in Portage is holding at $3.239 (the same price it went down to yesterday morning), resulting in the top 5 of the lowest prices in Michigan being in the vicinity of S. Westnedge Ave. in Kalamazoo and Portage. 4 of those prices are at 3 Speedways and 1 Rich station, which Marathon also owns.

  11. ChrisDG74, Cincinnati, OH

    Expect another spike tomorrow.

  12. After Labor Day prediction for high prices will be . . . . changing over to winter blends and having to heat your house for the winter.

  13. ChrisDG74 is right. New posting on its way.

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