While U.S. gasoline prices have been on the rise for the past two months — and are presently $0.15/gallon higher than they were a year ago — I expect that gasoline prices will start to fall rapidly in the weeks ahead. There are four reasons for this.
- First is that the spike from Hurricane Isaac will be short-lived as damage to oil and gas infrastructure seems to be limited. Facilities will be back online relatively quickly.
- Second is that summer driving season is at an end, and demand for gasoline will now decline.
- Third, the transition to winter gasoline (explained in depth in Refining 101: Winter Gasoline and Why Summer Gasoline Means Higher Prices) begins on September 15th. This will both lower the cost and increase the supplies of gasoline.
- Finally, the recent run-up in oil prices appears to be already priced into the cost of gasoline.
All of these factors point to the strong probability that gasoline prices will fall regardless of any government action between now and the election. Of course there are always factors that could trump these. More hurricanes that keep capacity offline, an outbreak of conflict with Iran, and the terrible accident at Venezuela’s 645,000 barrel-per-day Amuay refining complex are all factors that would work to increase prices. But taking everything into account, the safe bet seems to be that gasoline prices will fall just as they normally do in the fall.
This does not even take into account the likelihood that the Obama Administration will release more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This will be the topic of my next column.