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Good-bye "Debbie Downer," Hello $4 a gallon gas ... maybe ...

Sometimes I feel like Debbie Downer ... but not today.  
 
Today I am predicting that gas prices should drop 1¢ to 6¢ by
Thursday, and perhaps more at unbranded independently owned
gas stations, which could push the average price of gasoline below
$4 a gallon for the first time since March.
 
In case you are not  aware of Debbie Downer, she's the Saturday 
Night Live TV character who always finds the cloud inside every
silver lining. For 17-years I have made a career out of being a 
professional Debbie Downer on gasoline and energy issues. 
Bob "Consumer Bob" Hanson has been airing my predictions for
more than ten years on NBC's Consumer Connection every Monday 
and Thursday at 4:30pm. 
 
Although I have done many hundreds of TV,radio, and newspaper 
interviews, my typical sound bite can be summed up as saying
"You are getting screwed straight into the ground."
 
And generally speaking, I have been correct.
 
On Thursday, I predicted that prices could go up or down, and 
that they should go down, but that local refinery jitters caused
by the failure of two California refiners (Connoco/Phillips and 
Chevron -- which represent almost 18% of California's fuel 
manufacturing capacity) could spur prices up. In addition, 
an international storm was brewing in the Ukraine after another 
Malaysian Airline flight was blown out of the sky by Russian-made 
missiles (Ukraine supplies gas and coal to Europe), AND, the 
latest round of fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 
 
Yet the global and local markets seem to have reacted with yawns
to all the disturbing news. Natural gas prices are down. Brent 
Crude dropped, and WTI crude only jumped about a buck. What's
more, local wholesale prices have declined by 3.4¢ on average 
since my last prediction.
 
Normally, four events of this nature would send oil and gas prices 
surging. But that hasn't happened. Bob van der Valk has stated that 
he thinks the oil industry is on its best behavior to avoid accusations 
of profiteering, and he may be right ... score one for "irrational 
economics" ...  Debbie Downer Out ...  Irrational Optimism in. 
 
However for the next few days, and against my better judgement
(it is hard to not be cynical about the oil industry), my 
forecast is sanguine: Despite a report today from Bob van der Valk
that prices for raw California blendstock increased 6¢ this morning,
I think retail prices will continue to decline through Thursday. The
price hike Bob is referring to is undoubtably in response to Chevron's
announcement that its massive Richmond refinery will be shut down
for at least two more days. This event is probably forcing Chevron to
discreetly purchase gas from its competitors on the spot market, which
has in turn, driven  up the price of California's surplus fuel or "spot market"
supply. 
 
However, as of this weekend, the typical branded stations were 
enjoying an average margin of 25¢ a gallon on their gasoline.
And as for the Indies, they're making an average of 36 to 46¢
per gallon.  In all, most dealers have been making out like fat
rats for the last few days, and even if we see another price spike 
tomorrow at the wholesale level, gas prices should continue to
decline, and in the next day or two we could see gas prices drop 
below $4 a gallon ... for the first time since March 13. 
 
As for Debbie Downer? Don't worry. She could be back as early
as Thursday, July 24.