U.S. Gas Prices Dip

Gasoline prices were down slightly versus the previous week in every section of the U.S. except the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Nationally, the price of a gallon of gas was down nearly 0.4% in the past week and is down 1.4% in the past month, that's below the 3.1% drop in the price of WTI Crude, and the 7.3% drop in Brent Crude.

 

Regular

WTI Crude

Brent Crude

3/18/2013

$3.696

$93.71

$108.55

Week Ago

$3.71

$92.07

$108.64

Month Ago

$3.747

$96.69

$117.04

Year Ago

$3.867

$108.09

$125.76

Source: U.S. EIA.

We'll have to wait and see if gasoline prices prematurely peaked this year or if they have more room to run. The past two years, the national price of gasoline peaked sometime in April to early May.

Source: U.S. EIA.

Regionally, gas prices vary quite a bit, with the West Coast having the highest prices. On a weekly basis, gasoline prices were down in all areas except the Midwest, where they increased, and the Rocky Mountains, where they stayed the same.

Source: U.S. EIA.

The price of oil is far below its price last year when the oil markets were worried about Iran. With the price of oil down so much since then the obvious question is: Why is the price of gas so high now?

Refinery outages play a role. Many refineries do necessary maintenance in the winter months as demand is the lowest. We need to wait till tomorrow for last week's refinery utilization data. For the previous week, ending March 8, the EIA data showed refineries are utilizing slightly less capacity than last year across the U.S at 81%. That is the lowest utilization rate so far this year.

According to a roundup from Dow Jones Newsires, there are many planned and unplanned production outages at U.S. refineries currently:

Among the unplanned outages, notable ones include Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , which has a crude distillation unit offline at its refinery in Richmond, Calif. The company reportedly said yesterday it expects to have the unit back online by the end of March.

Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX  ) had its refinery in Sweeny, Texas, stop production after it lost power from a third-party source on March 10. Power was fully restored the next day and it was expected that production would fully resume by March 14-16.

Valero Energy (NYSE: VLO  ) has a hydrocracking unit currently out of service at its Port Arthur, Texas, facility for a compressor repair. There is no estimate on when the unit will be restarted. Valero also had a hydrocracking unit shut down in Benicia, Calif., on March 10, a restart date has not yet been set, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Among planned outages, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) has a coker unit undergoing planned maintenance at its Baytown, Texas, refinery. Meanwhile Alon's (NYSE: ALDW  ) Big Spring, Texas, refinery is operating at 85% of capacity as it undergoes maintenance. Also, the company's Krotz Springs, La., refinery is operating at 68% of capacity for maintenance.

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