Tag: futures

The Speedway Effect, Cincy style

Recently there was an article and news story on WCPO in Cincinnati about Speedway. In it they said a lot of things TheGasGame readers would already know, plus something I found interesting at first, and one outright falsehood.

They come right out of the gate letting us know Speedway’s secret: Real estate.

“We wanted to know how Speedway is able to change its prices market-wide without fear of what the station across the street is going to do. What we discovered is that in most cases, there is no station across the street.”

They used Google Maps and Street View to confirm that 63 out of 92 had no direct competition. This is how they are able to raise prices and not worry about the competition. I had never thought of this before. I started mapping Indianapolis Speedways, and sure enough, 30 of the 52 stations there have no direct competition.

I thought about this revelation a little further, and it really isn’t a Speedway thing. I found about the same ratio of other branded stations have stand alone stations compared to ones having competition. And then, it is also rare to see a Wal*Mart next to a Meijer, or Target; and a Lowes next to a Home Depot. Seems Speedway’s secret isn’t much of a secret at all. Not to mention they don’t do anything to prove this is why Speedway raises prices the way they do.

Then there is the outright falsehood.

“The vast majority of Speedway locations jumped to $2.65 with no corresponding spike in oil prices. Oil futures did go up 3.2 percent the day before, but gas prices in Cincinnati shot up by nearly four times that amount. And oil prices were actually falling while our gas prices were rising that Tuesday.”

The article and story was run on the 25th, but the spike up in prices happened on the 17th. Oil went up on the 17th, not down. Also, oil does not set the price of gas in this area (the PADD II). That would be the Chicago Mercantile trading of the Chicago Spot.

An analysis of the Chicago Spot from November 9th to the 17th shows that while it rose from $1.8218 to $1.9224, the average price of gas fell, almost 11 cents in Indiana, 9 cents in Michigan and 13 cents in Ohio. The Speedway spike caused averages in those three areas to go up 17 cents in Indiana, 11 cents in Michigan (with higher UP prices included), and 22 cents in Ohio.

They were far from jumping up with no correlating spike. They did not even meet the difference in each area. A 10 cent rise added to how the average fell in each area shows Speedway undercut Indiana by 4 cents, Michigan 8 cents and 1 cent in Ohio.

The rest is stuff we here at TheGasGame have been preaching a long time, long before even I came along. Speedway is the leader, selling 1 of every 5 gallons of gas. They have more corporate stations that any other. After Speedway rises, others follow, a statement that flies in the face of the earlier revelation that Speedway stations have no local competition.

If you haven’t visited the “Speedway Effect” article here at TheGasGame, I suggest you do so. You’ll learn far more accurate information than you did with this article. Also, if you have followed me at my Fair Price threads in the GasBuddy forums in Indianapolis, Indiana and Michigan, you can see I have discovered the pattern, and can pretty accurately predict when a spike will happen.

My new feature here at TheGasGame continues that. It’s called “The Spike Line”. It is a new name for what I have been doing all along in the “Fair Price” threads. It’s just a more accurate title. When the Spike Line is crossed, you can expect a spike up in prices from Speedway, it’s that simple. If there are other circumstances to cause or prevent a spike I’ll let you know that there as well. It’s just another way that TheGasGame is helping you save money. It’s one of the big reason’s I am proud to be a part of it.

Focus turns to the futures market “casino”, Goldman Sachs

It looks to me like powerful people are starting to pay serious attention to how much of the ups-and-downs in energy prices has been driven by a “casino-minded” attitude towards the future markets. Last week, PVM Oil Associates employee Steve Perkins lost $10 millon in a day playing the “electronic oil casino”. This week, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission is going after Goldman Sachs and others concerning alleged manipulation, or perhaps the word is abuse, of the futures markets. (There is a lot of other nonsense going on with Goldman Sachs, too.)

All this news shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to readers of The Gas Game. We’ve been talking about the effects of speculators and “investors” in the energy markets for quite a while.

Congratulations, Patrick, and Good Luck!

I want to publicly congratulate Patrick on this step forward in his career.  He had been keeping me abreast of his conversations with GasBuddy, and I was anticipating when this day will come.

When Patrick joined up with me a few years ago, The Gas Game was just a hobby of mine.  Some of you may recall my article in the Grand Rapids Press in 2002, along with my web site at gvsu.edu, as examples of this hobby.  With Patrick’s hard work, thegasgame.com became something special, with a great logo; RSS, reader comments and other tools to expand access; and several other obvious and hidden enhancements that have increased the visibility of this site.  Thank you, Patrick, for all the work you’ve done on this site.

Patrick and I have gone through a lot with this site the past few years.  The explosion of gas prices from below $2 to $4.25 brought us a lot of attention, and the dizzying drop this past year back below $1.50 has been amazing, too.  Due to all the news about gas prices the past few years, the site has been noted in media from Chicago to Washington, DC.

I don’t want to make it sound like we’re done now.  I will continue to post regularly to the site, making my comments and predictions about gas prices and possible hikes.  But with Patrick moving to Gas Buddy, postings on this site will be less frequent, and, as you may have noticed, I tend to focus on connecting the price of the futures to retail prices and pay less attention to refinery issues and Speedway rewards programs.  My quiet study of diesel continues, and I expect to have something intelligent to say about diesel pricing before the end of the year.  And, perhaps I’ll get another featured writer for the site.

Ed

Boy, was I WRONG.

Comment on Monday’s prediction:  Spectacularly WRONG!

Friday, November 21, 2008, 3:00 PM:  As I’ve indicated the past few months, I think the dramatic decline in energy prices is tied closely to the collapse of some our financial institutions, and this is also being reflected in the stock market.  I have to say, though, that I thought the worst of the collapse was over in October.  Since Election Day, stocks have fallen around 25%, oil has dropped about 28%, and NYMEX gasoline futures more than 30%.  I actually saw the front-month NYMEX price under $1 a gallon yesterday.  So, other than the lame attempt at a price hike last week, there has been no hints of one since September.  Remember 10 weeks ago when gas was $4.25 a gallon?  Based on today’s trading, we are looking at a zero-cent margin price around $1.55, and with prices in the $1.68-$1.89 range, we still have room to fall.

If the stock market stabilizes, then the energy markets will, too, and retail prices will stop falling.  Until then, no price hikes.  Enjoy?
 

Why aren’t gas prices lower?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008, 9:20 AM:  The following question has been posed to me several times the past month:  On July 15, oil was at $145 a barrel, and gasoline cost $4.25 a gallon at the pump in Grand Rapids.  Last week, oil was $72 a barrel, and gasoline cost $2.96 a gallon.  If the price of oil has been cut in half, why hasn’t the price of gas followed suit?

There are a few reasons for this, that I will try to explain.

1.  NYMEX.  Oil and gasoline futures are traded on the NYMEX, a public market with prices available for all to see.  The price of these future contracts helps set what is called the “spot” price, which is what is actually charged when real oil or gasoline changes hands at the wholesale level.  Sales and other taxes are not included in the NYMEX prices.  Looking at these futures prices, both oil and gasoline has dropped approximately 50%, so at least at the NYMEX level, these prices are correlated.

2.  Taxes.  There are three taxes applied to the wholesale price:  the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, the state gas tax of 19 cents per gallon, and the sales tax of 6%.  So, that’s at least 50 cents of the retail price that is taxes, regardless of the wholesale price (except for the sales tax, of course).  In the past three months, those taxes have not been cut in half, so it would be hard for the retail price to drop 50%.

3.  Chicago Summer Premium.  I coined this term a few years ago to describe how, during the summer months, the wholesale price in the Midwest is usually higher than the price based on NYMEX.  The reasons for this have to do with reformulated gasoline, variations in supply and demand, and some other mysteries I’ve never solved.  A way to monitor this premium is to look at the wholesale numbers for selected Midwest cities that are posted on AXXIS.  The NYMEX/AXXIS difference was 20 cents on July 15, over a dollar in mid-September when Hurricane Ike struck, and is currently still 41 cents.  The AXXIS price has not dropped in half the past three months, and this may still be a hangover from the hurricanes.  It is also the first place I would look for gas gouging if I was the Attorney General.

4.  The Dynamics of the Retail Market.  As a journalist said to me last week, “Up like a rocket, down like a feather.”  We’ve documented time and again on this site how this works, with the big price hikes followed by the gentle day-to-day drops, while the wholesale price fluctuates in the background.  Our last price hike was during the September 12-14 weekend, when prices got up to $4.29 on 28th street.  Since then, the drops have been slow but sure — some days one or two cents, other days seven or eight cents.  In an area where there are several stations, one station decides to drop their prices a few cents because a cheaper shipment came in that day, and the other stations follow suit.  The point is that the retailers aren’t setting their prices based on trading on NYMEX.  They are setting it based on their costs, what their competitors are doing, and what sort of business they are getting.  Are the retailers making extra money right now?  I doubt it, as our monitoring indicates they are still dealing with high wholesale prices in the Midwest, and some of the gas in their tanks cost them $2.95 a gallon last week.  But prices continue to fall, slowly but surely.

All this leads to my latest prediction:  It looks to me like the chaos on Wall Street is dissipating, so energy prices are starting to stabilize.  I expect Speedway and friends will decide it is time to straighten up their prices, with a reset by the end of the week to $2.89.

Are Oil Prices Rigged?

You know that part of the intellectual basis for The Gas Game is to use energy prices on future markets to approximate wholesale prices and then try to predict what is going to happen to retail prices. Following the futures markets have always made me wonder if they are manipulated, or perhaps the better word is abused.  The abuse is that traders buy and sell futures contracts — paper gasoline — but have no interest in real gasoline.  When the contracts come due, they “roll them over” to another month, rather than deliver the gasoline or take delivery.  Some of this is OK with me — I’ve played the stock market a bit — but I’ve read articles that suggests that this speculation has distorted those markets.

A few weeks ago, I read this article in Time magazine that makes that case that it is quite possible that those markets are distorted, because there really isn’t a lot of money being exchanged on NYMEX.  Key quote:  “The point is, it would only take about $9 billion to control the entire long position in oil. That sounds like an enormous amount of money, but some of the major individual players in oil are bigger than the market itself: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin, of Brunei Shell Petroleum, is worth about $23 billion; Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud is worth about $21 billion; Russian Vagit Alekperov of LUKoil is worth about $13 billion. No, we’re not implicating any of these guys in market rigging; in fact the list of billionaires with that kind of swag is long. The point is that anyone in that category could clearly handle the risks of the oil  futures market, and they might even be willing to take delivery on oil.”

Given that the U.S. government is throwing $700 billion around this weekend (and that’s a whole different story), $9 billion just seems like a rounding error.

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