Retail gasoline prices gained this week by the least in two months and may have reached a peak after catching up to a $19-a-barrel surge in crude costs.
The national average for regular gasoline climbed 0.4 cent to $3.847 a gallon from a week earlier, the smallest increase since prices began rising July 9, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report posted on its website yesterday. Prices were up 5.1 percent from $3.661 a year earlier.
Retail gasoline has advanced 49 cents a gallon in the past 10 weeks, tracking New York crude futures that have risen 25 percent from the 2012 intraday low on speculation that European and U.S. leaders will take measures to improve economic conditions. Oil prices have been fluctuating around $95 a barrel since mid-August, tempering the rise in retail prices.
“Gasoline prices have finally caught up with crude, and they’ll stay where they are as long as crude does,” David Hackett, the president of independent fuel consultant Stillwater Associates in Irvine, California, said by telephone yesterday.
Gasoline may actually start dropping this month as refiners switch out of summer-grade gasoline production, Hackett said.
“The refineries can make more gasoline this time of year, and that’ll take some of the steam out of the market,” he said.
Oil for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was at $96.22 a barrel in electronic trading today. Futures gained 12 cents to settle at $96.54 a barrel yesterday. Prices fell as low as $77.28 on June 28.
Crude stockpiles dropped 7.43 million barrels, or 2 percent, to 357.1 million in the week ended Aug. 31, Energy Department data show. They probably fell another 2.63 million barrels to 354.5 million last week, according to the median of eight analyst estimates before an Energy Department report tomorrow.
Gasoline for October delivery on Nymex was little changed at $3.0244 a gallon today. Futures climbed 0.44 cent, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $3.024 a gallon yesterday.
Motor-gasoline inventories declined 2.33 million barrels, or 1.2 percent, to 198.9 million in the week ended Aug. 31, the Energy Department said. They probably fell 1.65 million barrels to 197.2 million last week, the Bloomberg survey shows.
Retail gasoline in the Gulf Coast dropped for the first time in ten weeks, declining 0.4 cent to $3.641 a gallon. Prices also fell in the Midwest, by 1.5 cents to $3.860 a gallon. Gasoline in the Rocky Mountain region rose the most, gaining 5.8 cents to $3.698 a gallon, the energy agency’s report showed.
Sinclair Oil Corp.’s 25,500-barrel-a-day Casper refinery in Wyoming returned to normal operations Sept. 7 after a Sept. 2 power failure damaged the plant’s fluid catalytic cracker. The company was also repairing a sulfur unit at the 85,000-barrel-a-day Wyoming refinery near Rawlins following a power failure on Aug. 16, a company spokesman said by e-mail Sept. 7.
The Energy Department conducts a telephone survey of 800 retail gasoline outlets across the U.S. to post weekly prices.