There's some good news this holiday season. Thanks to America's energy boom we will likely be paying less at the pump in 2014. Overall, gasoline prices are forecast in 2014 to decline to an average of $3.43 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. That's $0.07 lower than this year's average and $0.20 lower than Americans paid on average for a gallon in 2012.
The following chart from the EIA shows that we can expect gas prices to stay about where they are for the next month or so. After that, gas prices are forecast to heat up as they do every year along with the weather.
What's different for the coming year is that the EIA's forecast doesn't predict a pronounced spike during the summer driving season. While the seasonal pickup is inevitable, continued oil production growth from North Dakota and Texas are expected to make the U.S. less dependent on more expensive foreign oil. This, along with an increase in fuel-efficient vehicles and the disappearing American driver, are making the summer spikes less pronounced.
Taking advantage of America's energy boom
This past year the U.S. produced more oil than it had in nearly two decades. That trend is expected to continue in 2014 as domestic oil production is forecast to rise by a million barrels per day to 8.5 million barrels per day. That's important because oil produced in America is cheaper than imported oil, with the EIA projecting that American oil will sell for about $8 per barrel cheaper than oil priced off the global benchmark.
Consumers aren't the only ones to benefit from cheaper oil. U.S. refiners Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX ) and Valero (NYSE: VLO ) are investing heavily to take advantage of lower priced American crude oil because it's great for profit margins. That is why we are seeing Phillips 66 investing to enhance its use of advantaged crude oil. One of its investments is the purchase of 2,000 rail cars that will transport advantaged crude oil to its refineries. Phillips 66 sees its access to cheaper feedstock being a big driver of its profitability as every dollar it saves on a barrel of oil yields an extra $450 million for its bottom line.
It's a similar story over at Valero, which is also investing so that it can receive oil transported by rail and barge. On top of that, Valero has several projects geared toward upgrading its refineries in order to process more cost-advantaged North American crude oil. However, that's only part of the reason why refiners like Valero and Phillips 66 are investing in cheaper American oil.
Gasoline exports keeping prices elevated
An interesting trend has developed over the past few years that now has America becoming a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline. Both Valero and Phillips 66 are investing to grow export capacity in order to sell cheaper American gasoline and diesel to the international marketplace. This actually acts as a headwind to gas prices and counter balances some of the effect of lower crude oil prices.
In fact, over the past few years exports of U.S. refined products have gone from a million barrels per day to more than 3 million barrels per day. We're using less gasoline in the U.S. due to energy efficiency gains as well as the lingering economic effects of the last recession. Those two trends would have made gas prices much cheaper if we weren't shipping our excess gasoline outside our borders. It's quite possible that if it weren't for the U.S. being a net exporter of gasoline and other refined products that the price Americans pay at the pump would be even cheaper in 2014.
As we gaze into 2014, it appears that gas prices will be lower than what we saw in 2013. That forecast is dependent upon oil prices remaining in the low-to-mid $90s for the year. Some analysts suggest that oil prices in America have more room to fall as production continues to rise. That's why it appears that 2014 won't be a painful one at the pump.
How to invest your gas price savings in 2014
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