Geo-Political Forces Abroad Keep Gas Prices Climbing
(WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2012) The price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil increased by $2.60 per barrel today to settle at $105.84 at the close of formal trading on the NYMEX, after markets were closed yesterday for the Presidents’ Day holiday. This is the highest settlement price since May 4, 2011. Crude prices today were driven higher by bullish news overseas, as European finance ministers yesterday agreed to a Greek bailout package and Iran halted its oil exports to France and Britain.
An improving economy overseas would be expected to consume more oil, which exerts upward pressure on prices. At the same time, when economies strengthen overseas, the U.S. dollar weakens and the price of oil (traded in dollars) becomes relatively less expensive. Oil futures subsequently become a more attractive investment, which exerts upward pressure on prices, as was the case today. While Iran’s announcement that it would cut off oil exports to Britain and France is worth noting, as it continues the recent escalation of geopolitical tension and uncertainty in the market, the ultimate impact on supply is limited. Britain and France get the majority of their oil from the North Sea region, and Iranian imports account for only 3 percent of their daily needs.
Despite continuing reports of historically anemic demand, crude prices last week were pressured higher by positive economic reports and increased tension with Iran. As Greece moved closer to securing the bailout necessary to prevent default on its sovereign debt, the U.S. economy continued to show signs of recovery, and WTI crude prices rose to end the week at a new 2012 high. At the same time, WTI continued to trade at a significant discount to Brent crude (the historic European benchmark) due to the bottleneck of WTI at its delivery location in Cushing, OK. With this in mind, many analysts have suggested that Brent may be a more accurate global benchmark for oil prices at this time. While refineries in the center of the country have access to these relatively cheaper crude products, refineries near the coast must purchase crude at more expensive global prices. This disparity is subsequently reflected in the price that motorists are paying at the pump, as those in the center of the country see relatively lower prices than those closer to the coast. Please see below for a state-by-state list of today’s average price for a gallon of regular gasoline.
Motorists in Hawaii and California are paying on average more than $4.00 per gallon, while those in Colorado and Wyoming pay less than $3.10. Drivers in Hilo, HI pay the highest price of any metropolitan area nationwide ($4.44 per gallon) however the ten highest priced areas in the lower 48 states are all in California and are all above $4.00 per gallon as well. These areas with the top-ten highest prices are listed below.
- Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompac, CA: $4.105
- San Luis Obispo-Atascadero-Paso Robles, CA: $4.103
- San Diego, CA: $4.087
- LA-Long Beach, CA: $4.082
- San Francisco, CA: $4.079
- Ventura, CA: $4.077
- Orange County, CA: $4.071
- Riverside-San Bernardino, CA: $4.047
- (tie) Oakland, CA: $4.031 and San Jose, CA: $4.031
The current national retail average price for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline is $3.57. Today’s price is six cents more expensive than one week ago, 18 cents more expensive than one month ago, and 40 cents more expensive than one year ago.