Why Are Gasoline Prices Staying High?

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The old adage about gasoline prices, “up like a rocket, down like a feather,” has never been so true. The price of crude oil in recent days has been down near $80 a barrel, translating to about $1.92 a gallon. But the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline, according to AAA, is stuck at $3.63 a gallon, what it was a month ago.

Economists are cheering the drop in the price of oil, but it won’t do much to help consumers unless the price of fuel comes down as well.

Attached is the AAA national price chart for Wednesday. Note that the gap between the price of oil and the price of gasoline is about $1.80–around twice the recent usual, and the gap has been growing since the beginning of July. Because stations these days turn over their inventory fast, unlike in the old days of mom-and-pop stations, there’s no visible excuse for the retail prices.

I’m often on the side of gasoline retailers when it comes to pricing, because they get squeezed by refiners and price-setting by their suppliers. But wholesale gasoline prices are also dropping sharply, so it looks like the branded retail chains are reaping a bonanza even as drivers suffer as much as ever from a trashed economy.

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