Scratching My Head

Comment on the March 19 prediction:  With the price hike on Saturday to $3.79, this one turned out to be WRONG.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 7:15AM:  I am still scratching my head about Saturday’s price re-set to $3.79.  Here was my calculation on Saturday morning:  estimated wholesale price:  $2.71.  Add in taxes and transportation, and the price to retailers was $3.39.  Typically, when a price hike occurs, the new price is about 20 cents higher than that, which gives us $3.59.  Now, retail prices on Friday night were about $3.59, so I would expect no hike.  Instead, $3.79 was 40 cents higher than the price to retailers.  That’s just weird.  Now, this morning, you can buy gas for $3.59 at the Marathon at Burton and Kalamazoo, but there are still a lot of places in the upper $3.70’s.  Unless we have just seen a dramatic change in retail gas pricing behavior, it is an easy prediction that gas prices will continue to fall for the next several days. –EA

Updated: March 26, 2014 — 7:10 am


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  1. I’m sure they will find another excuse to hike such as this:

    BP oil spill in Lake Michigan on Monday.

  2. I think we are in the midst of a change in retail price behavior.
    Possibly because too many people were ‘winning’ at the gas game.

  3. It was only a dozen barrels. It was nothing to the market.

    I understand the cynicism that says they will hike prices because of it, but it’s not going to happen. They don’t need to “find” excuses when there are normally reasons for prices to increase anyway. We don’t have to like them, and we’d like to hope there are ways to avoid some of them, but they are reasons nonetheless.

  4. AFOS from (who also makes predictions) pointed out that there are record high ethanol prices now. Since most gas stations have gas that has 10% ethanol content, that means more cost. That could be the reason why we saw our last spike…..

  5. One thing we cannot forget here in the Midwest: Supply is so tight, and stocks of refined gasoline is, by design, so low, that anything at all that could possibly be construed as potentially affecting supply will be reacted to in wholesale pricing so profusely and in spades to the fullest extent their imaginations will allow. Finding excuses are not needed.

  6. Government-mandated ethanol.

    Yet another clue leading us to the primary perpetrator of high gas prices.

  7. Well, of course Ren. The farmers and distillers have to make a profit at our expense. Caution: sarcasm intended.

  8. Ethanol up 42% since January 1st.

    The BP Whiting spill had no effect on production.
    Wood River and Exxon Joliet had hiccups last week.
    Mid Valley pipeline was down but is back in operation.

  9. This morning, Fort Wayne’s average dipped below Indiana’s average price per gallon. Only once in the last year that was not a 3 day (or less) harbinger of a price spike. Given that and the fact that I paid less than the calculated cost to the station, I went ahead and filled up. Generally, once I am at work, I won’t be able to leave to fill up in time if the spike occurs while I’m at work. Given that these spikes are larger than what I used to pay for gas when I started driving, anything I can save is on my side. Between Gas Buddy and Ed, a lot of people are able to save a lot of $$.

  10. I could maybe see that the record price of ethanal could have an affect on gasoline prices. The problem I’m having is why the price hike on E85 isn’t more dramatically affected pricewise. I don’t see it in Cincinnati.

  11. Becky_Gelke… I would expect if the high prices on ethanol persist (they eased a few cents the last couple days), E-85 would soon enough be selling for MORE than E-10 since the cost of the ethanol component is well above that of the gasoline component. Thorntons E-85 price is up to $3.49 here,but still below E-10 (which they also actually compete on price on).

  12. The E85 siting in the tanks has already been paid for. And it probably has and will sit there a long time.

  13. I noticed a 50 cent increase in E85 prices at a Family Express in my area. It was $2.89 just a couple of weeks ago and is now $3.39.

  14. independent retailer

    Ed here is latest cost to me
    20th 3.51
    21st 3.55
    24th 3.56
    25th 3.55
    26th 3.53
    See how that works in your formula.

  15. I was in the same boat as you, Ed. I think we use the same sources of information to come up with a Spike Line and I totally missed the latest MI, IN and OH spikes. Thought they were entirely unjustified, even. Unfortunately, the ethanol inventories are at record lows and the railcar shortage is making it harder to get ethanol shipped around to where it needs to be. As a result, a factor that has been relatively stable can’t continue to be ignored in our predictive price model. Ethanol spot prices have increased to record highs recently. You can figure that a $1 increase in the ethanol spot price will translate into at 10 cent increase in E10. I haven’t tracked ethanol spot prices, so I don’t have the history in hand to know exactly how much it has gone up, but I’m afraid we may need to incorporate something in the pricing model to account for such variations.

  16. Independent retailer, that’s about 10 cents higher than what I have been calculating. I wonder where that extra dime is being introduced into the system, because it isn’t in the Chicago CBOB price, and based on your report, it isn’t being added by retailers to increase margins.

  17. independent retailer

    27th 3.54
    28th 3.59
    I was just thinking depending on my retail, the numbers are actually higher. Prepaid sales tax is not covering the actual tax. (state)
    Based on my cost today, and 3.66 retail I have to add about 4 cents.
    So I say spike tomorrow. Sorry guys.

  18. After a plateau, Chicago ethanol spot prices are up another 48.5 cents the last two days and are around a dollar above gasoline blendstock spot prices.

  19. Correct me if I’m wrong, but CBOB is intended to be blended with oxygenates, such as ethanol. The prices should be reflective of that blend. Accordingly, E10 would be 10% Ethanol and 90% CBOB Gasoline. So if we take yesterday’s CBOB price of $2.7694 and notional spot prices of ethanol at $3 and $4 per gallon, we can calculate a simple reference cost. (0.9 x $2.7694)+(0.1 x $3)=$2.7925 versus (0.9 x $2.7694)+(0.1 x $4)=$2.8925

  20. I’m not sure exactly which is the best ethanol spot price. Argo terminal spot ethanol in Chicago traded at $3.70-3.80 today. There’s also “rule 11 for trade this week”. No quote today, but yesterday it was 40 cents above spot price. In any case, probably much closer to $4 right now than to $3 and certainly dragging UP the price of E-10. let alone E-85. Not sure that a blend of spot prices accurately reflects dealer cost of gasoline, but the day to day change should reflect the change in dealer cost for the next day. We’re

  21. I still see E85 at our local Kroger at 48 cents less than regular unleaded as of this evening. It may or may not be an aberration in favor of my area. Of course it may change Monday or even Saturday for all I know.

  22. Gas is going up to $3.85 today in Grand Rapids

  23. saturday is the new spike day

  24. I am stocking up on corn syrup! Next time Speedway wants candy bars I will show them 🙂

    At the risk of asking the obvious, do ethanol producers and refineries / blenders use MRP and ERP software? Rail is the most predictable of all shipping methods (less prone to all kinds of outages) so unless a squirrel (beaver maybe) chews thru a wooden bridge the capacity of the system is not impacted by weather or other maladies.

    With ERP / MRP one knows exactly what is where and when.

    Just pondering, I’m sure there is a reasonable and ethical explanation… But I can’t envision my people at work raising our prices because we couldn’t find shipping. Demand has been relatively stable and predictable thanks to weather and time of year…

  25. PHS…Price Hike Saturday

    The next four scheduled spikes are:

    April 5th
    April 12th
    April 19th
    April 26th

    There, I just did Speedway’s work for them so they can take an extended sping break lol.

  26. On Thursday, I mentioned how Fort Wayne’s average dipped below the Indiana State’s average, and how it is a usual predictor of a price hike within 3 days. Here it is Saturday; SPIKE! Entirely non scientific, but true none the less.

  27. I’ve done some more work on my pricing model this afternoon. These difficult to predict spikes have me irritated, so I made some changes to incorporate ethanol price premiums into the model. Most gas is E-10, so it’ll only impart about 10% of its cost on to the final blend. I’ve coupled Friday’s CBOB price with the highest spot ethanol price I have for Friday ($4.08). Assuming 90/10 blend plus the same usual factors for tax, transportation, etc. I’m coming up with a Spike Line of $3.4475. That’s still $0.1375 below yesterday’s closing OH retail average and $0.1225 below the current average. Technically speaking, we should be in good shape in Ohio, witnessed by our lack of a price hike today.
    Now for MI and IN, I can actually see the spike making sense for them today based on the changes to the model. Using the CBOB and ethanol prices above in conjunction with the usual tax, etc. factor for those states, I came up with Spike Lines of $3.67 and $3.66 for IN and MI, respectively. Their retail averages yesterday evening were $3.598 and $3.628 for IN and MI, respectively. Both of those retail averages are BELOW the Spike Line and puts them in jeopardy of a Spike. For what it’s worth, the model indicates spike risk at the closing Chicago ethanol price of $3.80, too.
    What will be interesting now is to see if Ohio follows the same model, because we don’t look to be in the same shape as Indiana and Michigan. That is, we are still healthily above the Spike Line.

  28. Average&city2=Indiana&city3=&crude=n&tme=6&units=us
    Not sure what changed around Christmas, but starting about that time we have been getting the raw end of the stick…always since then. OH, And I mentioned a while back, that Saturdays are perfect times for price hikes. People are not “connected” on Saturdays as much as weekdays. It’s a great time to surprise people.

  29. I’m not sure why it never works for me, but the above graph was Indiana gas prices vs USA average, for the last 6 months.

  30. Turbo, even if rail is not prone to weather stoppages (not sure that’s completely true), all the other shipping methods would still be affected by weather, which would drive their business to rail.

    The oil boom and huge Canadian grain harvest have additionally increased rail demand. There is a limited amount of lines and cars. They can’t just lay down more track or conjure up a thousand more rail cars to deal with a bottleneck.

    So, the reason prices increase due to lack of shipping options is actually quite simple: lower supply of a high-demand product equals higher prices. Oil and gas are being produced rapidly, but they can’t get the products to where they can be consumed. Providers are bidding for pieces of a smaller pie than usual.

  31. Ren, in a proper MRP / ERP environment shipping is arranged months in advance. If I’m shipping my stuff via rail and the Loch Ness monster shows up in Paducah and closes the river for barge traffic, my stuff still ships as I have long term shipping contracts to make sure it’s going to get there. Likewise, if Bigfoot causes havoc and closes I-70 (which would be an improvement) to truck traffic, my stuff still ships because I have long term contracts.

    It would take a major leap of faith to fathom that Farmer Bob’s Moonshine Factory & Ethanol Still in Tipton picks up his phone the moment he has a railcar’s worth of ethanol ready to ship to Whitting and prays that the rail dispatcher will find him a railcar.

    Maybe I’m a skeptic but these days logistics is a pretty exact science. There’s some variation in the system and extra capacity, but the idea that Farmer Bob Ethanol Industries Inc. does just-in-time-find-a-railcar-please type ERP is very difficult to believe.

    Because We Can is a lot more plausible than Because We Can’t Ship Via Rail. I realize you go by what is reported but critical thinking is a useful skill.

  32. Forgot to add, your explanation regarding new demand for rail transport makes sense for NEW customers of the rail industry, not existing customers.

    If I have a long term contract to ship 30 tons a week from Tipton to Whiting, the shipping company simply can’t just bump me off the schedule and use my railcar to ship bourbon instead because they offered him more money.

    The whole point of ERP and MRP is to make such planning possible. A lot of things are shipped on demand but continuous manufacturing operation components are not one of them. Dedicated logistics etc.

    (The things you learn married to a veteran ERP / MRP software consultant)

  33. The issues I mentioned have been in place for more than just a few days. Bad weather, increased oil production, and the bumper grain crop in Canada were all set into motion many months ago.

    Also, could anybody really anticipate the magnitude of the closure of the Great Lakes shipping lanes? Ice cover was the worst in decades. It’s only now scheduled to reopen for the season — one of the latest reopening dates in ages.

    Yes, you plan your shipments in advance, but when unforeseen events interfere, you scramble to make other plans — or your product doesn’t get shipped at all. Lower supply of high-demand products…

  34. Here’s another article that covers the topic:

    The facts seem pretty clear and plausible to me.

  35. The facts neglected to explain why prices in some commodities impacted by the shortage actually dropped due to the shortage. Of course when production goes up and demand stays same prices will drop, but if there’s no rail to carry grain, the grain consumers on the other side should be seeing shortages and higher prices. None so far except in oil.

    According to another articles I read, the issue is also highly related to trains being used to move oil around. So, the oil industry is double dipping there, monopolizing the transportation part to move their stuff and still charging higher prices while blaming the transportation shortages. Nice gig if you can get it.

    As I have always said, Ren, it’s a question of credibility. The issue with BNSF has existed for a while now and all of a sudden it rears its ugly head… The oil industry is trying to keep the price ‘plausibly’ in the just under $4.00 magic figure and this time they found a new playmate.

    I don’t pick on the oil industry, btw. Semiconductor companies were notorious for a while in keeping supply low and prices high on computer memory. There were ‘fires’, ‘upsets’, and my ever favorite incident where just cycling power to the plant disrupted production for a couple weeks.

  36. No spike in Ohio yet.
    As usual, areas where Speedway faces competition have lower prices, 30 cents lower in some cases.

  37. Guys, this is all ethanol.


    Here’s my math:
    1 gallon:
    .9 gallon conventional
    .1 gallon ethanol

    with ethanol

    without ethanol

    with ethanol as normal

  38. And Ren- you have it pretty much spot on.

    Turbo- You aren’t making much sense. If an existing customer wants to suddenly ship 500,000 barrels more per DAY in X commodity (oil or ethanol), whatever freight company will try to take as much as they can, which if everything doesn’t go EXACTLY as planned (ever hear of train delays or loading/unloading delays) everything’s screwed. And believe it or not, much of it IS a just in time environment. Pipelines are much more stable and reliable for shipping and offer cycles for any customer to ship, and also, ethanol isn’t going to refineries, its blended at racks.

  39. Patrick, the operative word in your message is “MORE per day”.

    I don’t dispute that pipelines are better, but at the same time supply lines are not exactly the ad-hoc chaos you think they are.

    My company has suppliers and manufacturing facilities in five continents and we think we have it down pretty well, even accounting for things like the Japan quake, floods, etc etc etc.

    All I want to know is if I have a long term contract to ship 500,000 furlongs of ethanol per month from Big Bob’s Ethanol Still in Tipton, IN to BP in Whiting, I better not have to worry that Cousin Bill’s Rail Service Inc. won’t show up once a month or whenever to pick it up.

    There may be disruptions here or there but there’s some buffer inventory built into any system. Not months’ worth of course but not ‘guys we ran out’ either. It’s not like we don’t know how to do the supply chain math.

    You didn’t hear the electric companies running out of coal, or cereal companies running out of wheat, or corn syrup companies running out of corn and jacking up prices.

    As I have said many times, it’s all about credibility. Maybe you and Ren have it down 100% and I’m way off base. But the oil industry has a proven track record of using any and all excuse to hike prices, and especially our region.

    Consumers have a right to be skeptical. Without major world crises, and without supply disruptions, crude is still $100.

  40. “You didn’t hear the electric companies running out of coal, or cereal companies running out of wheat, or corn syrup companies running out of corn and jacking up prices.”

    Completely different products from different sources with different production cycles. Naturally, they will be affected in different ways and at different magnitudes.

    “But the oil industry has a proven track record of using any and all excuse to hike prices, and especially our region.”

    Despite all sorts of congressional grandstanding and investigating, the “oil industry” has no mechanism by which to collude and dream up excuses. These corporations are competing against each other. That means their responsibility is to provide the highest quality product for the best value. If one corporation wants to merely pretend that some disruption or uncertainty is an “excuse” to jack up prices, their competitors will jump on the chance to undercut them and thus provide a better value.

    Collusion has been alleged for decades, but in recent memory there has been little or no evidence that it’s actually happened — despite all the attention the industry receives.

    (And, no, I’m not here to say the industry is squeaky clean or incapable of unethical actions. I’m just saying that I want specific proof before I allege anything.)

    “Consumers have a right to be skeptical. Without major world crises, and without supply disruptions, crude is still $100.”

    You’re focusing on supply. Don’t forget about demand…

  41. Turbo- here are some reasons. And yeah there are some buffers, but the winter we had would not be in the world’s wildest dreams. You protect a city based on a 100-year (or maybe more or less) flood. Those fail safes don’t apply to the 100-year (or coldest) ever (and one of the snowiest) ever winters. Look at your contract, or any in the oil business… look for force majeure. It’s everywhere. That’s how a contract can become temporarily void.;jsessionid=9106FF277D6F8DFC567D74F6ED681920.agfreejvm1?symbolicName=/free/news/template2&forceNavUpdate=false&product=DTN/Ag/Markets/RenewableFuels&vendorReference=cdc05037-93d5-4d44-a8c1-0863db6f1026__1386869607147

  42. Ohio spiking to 3.699 today. smh.
    Thanks Speedway!

  43. <<>>

    Ren, I am at a loss believing much of the above.

    At the retail level, in our six state area at least, price changes at one station instantaneously propagate everywhere, with a few exceptions. I have lived in other parts of the country and needless to say such price dancing simply does not occur. Are you going to admit that spiking is a myth, too?

    At the supply level, there’s no reason to collude or compete in prices. Crude is priced by The Powers That Be, refined gasoline is priced by the various terminals, and so on.

    At the consumer side, I see huge variations in gasoline (based on resulting mileage) that simply cannot be explained by ‘weather’. But quality? gasoline is a commodity.

    And, pray tell me, when one refinery goes down and instantly the prices at the Chicago terminal all jump in sympathy, where is the ‘competition’ in that?

    Feel free to believe in competition, but the bottom line is that you have monopolies stacked on top of monopolies, and expecting competition is fairly optimistic to say the least.

    When 2 inches of rain or squirrels stop disrupting refineries, and when pricing games of companies like Speedway stop, I will be more than happy to take the “oil industry” seriously.

    A decade ago BP did a huge PR campaign to get the permit for expansion of Whiting and stable prices and supply of gasoline were key components. That worked real well, didn’t it?

    I don’t really care for the price of gas. I fill up once a week with 12 gallons, 10 for me and 2 for the wife. That’s what, $200 a month worst case. Not a bad deal. It won’t hurt me if it goes to $500. But a lot of the rest of the country can’t. It’s a zero sum game.

    We were told that more drilling is the answer for low prices. Ahoy and behold, we drilled more (and export it). We were told more refineries are the answer. Many refineries were shut down by their owners as per Senator Wyden’s report to bolster profits. We were told expanding refineries would keep prices stable. We were told to drive less, and smaller cars. We did. We were told it was all geopolitical issues and we should wait for things to resolve. We did.

    How well did any of this work for us, Ren?

  44. *sigh*

    Look, even the experts here, whose goal is to HELP consumers find the best prices, say that the industry largely works on basic economic principles, to the point where they have it down to a formula that occasionally requires a tweak or two.

    Conversely, you are so focused on the conspiracy and collusion aspects, but all you have is suspicion and apple/orange comparisons to other industries. I know that all of us don’t sound convincing to you, but you must understand that you sound far from convincing to me too.

    This site is dedicated to numbers, not tin-foil hats and complaining. That’s why I like it. It would be nice and more useful if it stayed focused on numbers.

  45. Very well said Turbo. Big money lets them get away with anything they want to do. I am only one person, but for the last year I have never bought from a Greedway station and will never buy from them in the future either.

  46. I still believe, rather than collusion, what we have is a very perfect storm of 1)very limited storage to cover for interruptions in supply or delivery 2)very volatile pricing since so much of our crude comes from other countries 3)since there is such a limited storage capability, there is no need to have “extra” production capacity 4)no over capacity in production leads to shortfalls if ANYTHING at all happens anyplace 5)FEAR that “your customers” will not have their supply of gasoline. It all leads to pricing driven by the fear and near panic. There is enough retail competition that the prices fall, and as soon as someone blinks because they went too far (to get people inside where the profit is made, read Speedway) they restore margins aggressively, and everyone else breathes relief and follows suit. This is not collusion, it working the system with lots of followers.

  47. I must say that i really enjoy being able to get on this site and try to stay ahead of retail upswings, although i drive 400 miles a week and can’t always win “the game” by filling up at the lows. However, for the better part i am able to save myself a few dollars and grin when i do. Thanks Ed for what you do. I also enjoy getting on this site each and every morning just to view the comments from Ren and Turbo, who both to me seem to be very knowledgeable. I’m not looking to see who won or lost the “game” debate, but looking at both of their opinions and trying to make an informed decision as to what my opinion could be. They both go at it with professionalism without flaming one another and thats what keeps me coming back. Thanks for keeping it professional guys! Have a good day.

  48. Turbo – agreed, totally!! Mike Kalamazoo – I haven’t bought from Speedway in probably 2 years and like you, will not in the future either.

    I remember the 70’s “shortage” and how it was called for that we had to increase gas mileage for our vehicles. IMHO – the technology IS out there for us to get a LOT better mileage than we do now on vehicles and has been for a very long time [funny isn’t it how as soon as gov’t insists better mileage for our vehicles, the next year’s new vehicles amazingly get better mileage??], but there is still money to be made in oil and until there isn’t, newer technology, higher mileage cars will not be in our future. Oh sure there is E85, electric, battery, but the vehicles all cost more and for that reason nobody is buying them [much]. It’s not like they are rushing out the auto dealership doors as the latest and greatest next must have thing. Latest and greatest cell phones sell faster. I don’t have one of those, either – LOL!!

  49. Turbo- seriously? You’re citing the 8 year modernization of BP Whiting that JUST got done!? How well that worked? You gave it… about 0 minutes. Prices likely won’t surpass $4/gallon. You know that the modernization isn’t bringing much more gasoline production online? It’s more that the plant isn’t down anymore that will help limit how HIGH prices go.

    You’re all over the map, we cited ethanol issues that you were debating, but you clearly ignored debating that point and simply went back to your blind defense. We/I am NOT the oil industry. But by blindly not believing anyone but yourself, who is not an expert at all, what’s to gain? We are simply trying to inform you, but like many other people, you simply refuse to believe it and live in a world where you won’t let educated people educate you. You’re too proud to accept that maybe there are some things you could learn.

    We’re already told you countless times why price changes propagate very quickly and everywhere. If you had the same morning routine for 14 years, you’d probably get pretty good at it. That’s what happens here. OK- we have that angle covered. When one station goes up, many follow quickly. Blame technology for being able to find out very quickly that your competition raises prices. Why would you charge less when you could charge more? Gas stations are businesses with families to support, not charities.

    We’ve said spiking occurs. What blinders have you put on?

    Did you know that Marathon just got investigated by the CFTC for *gasp* MANIPULATING the markets to DRIVE DOWN PRICES? Where are you on this stuff? Now, it was for their refining advantage, but you need to stay on top of this because you only present your non-factual “knowledge” here. These are facts, and if you want to refute them, you’re the only one that will be in the dark.

    At the consumer side, you see huge variations in gasoline? What are you talking about? Mileage? When’s the last time you filled up a tank and drove the EXACT same. Do an engine dyno in a LAB to do factual science and mileage calculations, your “road test” version is not scientific, because no matter who you are, you drive different EVERY day of your life. There’s too many factors that change to scientifically prove you drive the same, unless you throw and engine on an engine dyno and prove it with the same conditions.

    When one refinery goes down it causes panic and buying in markets. Ever see what happens to the stock market after a terrorist attack? Fear DRIVES markets- up or down, depending on the commodity/market.

    You again go back to BP’s permit “a decade ago”. Did you expect a piece of paper (permit) to suddenly cause prices to change? (See above what I said about it just being completed)

    You were told by whom that drilling was the answer? Some politician? An oil company? Why do you insist on believing them when you won’t even believe us? Clearly you should really examine your thought process.

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