Petroleum & Other Liquids

This Week in Petroleum

Release date: November 25, 2015  |  Next release date: December 2, 2015

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Lowest retail gasoline prices since 2008 lead to Thanksgiving trip savings across United States

Traditionally, the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the most-traveled times of the year in the United States, and much of that travel is by gasoline-fueled light-duty vehicles (passenger cars and light duty trucks). AAA estimates that during this Thanksgiving holiday period (November 25-29), 41.9 million people in the United States will travel more than 50 miles from home by car. This is a slight increase of 0.7% compared with last year, and the highest number of travelers by car for Thanksgiving since 2007. This year, gasoline prices have fallen to the lowest levels for Thanksgiving week since 2008, with the U.S. average regular retail gasoline price at $2.09 per gallon (/g) as of November 23, 73 cents lower than the same time last year (Figure 1).

Gasoline prices across the country reflect differences in gasoline specifications, taxes, and the characteristics of regional market supply and demand balances. In 2015, regional supply disruptions in California and in the Midwest resulted in higher wholesale and retail gasoline prices in the affected markets. Based on data from EIA's Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update, retail gasoline prices as of November 23 range, from a low of $1.85/g in Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 3 to a high of $2.58/g in PADD 5 (Figure 2).

Lower gasoline prices across the country translate into cost savings during Thanksgiving travel, but those savings, like gasoline prices, vary by region (Figure 3). Estimated trip savings can be calculated using the average light-duty vehicle fleet fuel efficiency of 22.3 miles per gallon in 2014 and 22.6 miles per gallon in 2015, with AAA's 50-mile (100-mile roundtrip) distance traveled, and the regional average retail regular gasoline price for Thanksgiving week of each year.

The region with the greatest travel savings compared to last year was the Rocky Mountains (PADD 4), where the average retail price of regular gasoline is 84 cents lower than the Thanksgiving week of last year, saving an estimated $3.93 on the 100-mile round trip, falling to $9.25 from $13.18. The region with the lowest price change compared to last year is PADD 5, where a 100-mile round trip costs $2.30 less compared to last year. However, trip savings using the PADD 5 except California average price is $3.15, highlighting the price effect of California's ongoing supply disruption (Figure 3).

Lower gasoline prices this year are linked to lower crude oil prices. As global petroleum and other liquids production continued to outpace consumption in 2015, the resulting increases in global inventories of crude oil and petroleum products have put significant downward pressure on oil prices. The decline in crude oil prices also reflects concerns about lower economic growth in emerging markets, a negative factor for demand growth and expectations of higher crude oil exports from Iran. Spot prices of North Sea Brent fell to $42 per barrel (b) in the third week of November, $37/b lower than the $79/b average during November 2014.

Additionally, higher inventories and refineries returning from fall planned outages will likely weigh on wholesale and retail gasoline prices going forward. Total U.S. gasoline inventories were 216 million barrels for the week ending November 20, 10 million barrels higher than the same time last year, and 9 million barrels higher than the five-year average. Refineries returning from fall maintenance have pressured gasoline prices further, particularly in the Midwest (PADD 2), where wholesale gasoline prices in Chicago briefly fell below $1.00/g last week. However, the lower wholesale prices will take time to pass through to the retail level.

U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel fuel prices decrease

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price decreased eight cents from the previous week to $2.09 per gallon as of November 23, 2015, 73 cents lower than at the same time last year, and the lowest price for Thanksgiving week since 2008. The Midwest price fell 15 cents to $1.94 per gallon, making it the second region, after the Gulf Coast, with a sub-$2 per gallon average retail gasoline price. The Gulf Coast price declined seven cents to $1.85 per gallon. The West Coast price decreased six cents to $2.58 per gallon. The East Coast price fell five cents to $2.11 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain price decreased four cents to $2.09 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased four cents from the prior week to $2.45 per gallon, down $1.18 per gallon from the same time last year. The Midwest price decreased five cents to $2.44 per gallon, while the West Coast price declined four cents to $2.65 per gallon. The East Coast price decreased three cents to $2.47 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price was down two cents to $2.28 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price decreased one cent to $2.47 per gallon.

Residential heating oil price decreases while propane price increases

As of November 23, 2015, residential heating oil prices averaged nearly $2.38 per gallon, 2 cents per gallon lower than last week and almost 99 cents lower than one year ago. The average wholesale heating oil price this week was just shy of $1.42 per gallon, 4 cents lower than last week and $1.16 per gallon lower than a year ago.

Residential propane prices averaged just under $1.96 per gallon, almost 2 cents per gallon higher than last week's price but almost 45 cents lower than one year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged 49 cents per gallon, unchanged from last week and 44 cents lower than last year's price for the same week.

Propane inventories gain

U.S. propane stocks increased by 1.7 million barrels last week to 106.2 million barrels as of November 20, 2015, 27.0 million barrels (34.1%) higher than a year ago. Gulf Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels and Midwest inventories increased by 0.6 million barrels. East Coast inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels while Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.2 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 3.2% of total propane inventories.

For questions about This Week in Petroleum, contact the Petroleum Markets Team at 202-586-4522.

Tags: gasoline, prices

Retail prices (dollars per gallon)

Retail price graphs
  Retail prices Change from last
  11/23/15 Week Year
Gasoline 2.094 -0.084 -0.727
Diesel 2.445 -0.037 -1.183
Heating Oil 2.375 -0.023 -0.989
Propane 1.956 0.018 -0.445

Futures prices (dollars per gallon*)

Futures price graphs
  Futures prices Change from last
  11/20/15 Week Year
Crude oil 40.39 -0.35 -36.12
Gasoline 1.290 0.051 -0.767
Heating oil 1.371 -0.010 -1.034
*Note: Crude oil price in dollars per barrel.

Stocks (million barrels)

Stock price graphs
  Stocks Change from last
  11/20/15 Week Year
Crude oil 488.2 1.0 105.2
Gasoline 216.7 2.5 10.3
Distillate 141.4 1.0 28.2
Propane 106.202 1.733 27.001