In 2015, consumers paid an annual average of $2.40 per gallon, which was the lowest annual average since 2009. Market fundamentals are positioned to continue to support consumer savings in 2016, though retail averages are likely to increase leading up to the summer driving season as seasonal refinery maintenance gets underway this spring. These price increases are expected to be seasonal, and barring any unanticipated events that dramatically impact global or domestic supply, the national average price is expected to remain below $3 per gallon in 2016.
A heavier-than-expected refinery maintenance season this fall, combined with unexpected refinery outages, has helped maintain California’s ($2.87) position as the nation’s most expensive market for retail gasoline. Drivers in the Golden State are paying an average price that is 19 cents per gallon more than second-place Hawaii ($2.68), which is typically the market’s leader. Regional neighbors Nevada ($2.51), Washington ($2.46) and Alaska ($2.46) round out the top five most expensive markets. Motorists in 34 states are paying averages below $2 per gallon. Missouri ($1.70), Oklahoma ($1.73), Arkansas ($1.74), South Carolina ($1.74) and Kansas ($1.75) are the nation’s least expensive markets for gasoline.
Pump prices have been relatively stable on the week, moving by +/-3 cents in 47 states and Washington, D.C. Averages are down in the majority of states (38) over this same period and drivers in North Dakota (-4 cents), Montana (-3 cents) and Delaware (-2 cents) are benefitting from the largest weekly savings in the nation. On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska (+4 cents) and California (+4 cents) are the only two states where prices are up by more than fractions of a penny week-over-week.
Gas prices are discounted in 43 states and Washington, D.C. month-over-month. Retail averages have fallen by more than a nickel per gallon in 34 states and Washington, D.C. over this same time period, and 21 states are posting double-digit discounts. The largest monthly savings are in Montana (-26 cents), Delaware (-19 cents), North Dakota (-18 cents) and Nebraska (-17 cents). Consumers in seven states are paying more to refuel their vehicles versus one month ago. Prices continue to move higher in a less dramatic fashion, and California (+18 cents) is the only state where prices are up double-digits on the month, due to ongoing supply challenges. Michigan (+5 cents) and Alaska (+5 cents) join California as the only three states where prices are up more than a nickel per gallon month-over-month.
Averages typically fall during the winter months, and despite relatively lower pump prices year-over-year, savings are becoming less pronounced compared to recent months. Consumers in the vast majority of states (47) continue to experience yearly savings in the price of gasoline, and prices are down more than 25 cents per gallon in 26 states and Washington, D.C. For the first time since 2014, yearly price comparisons are higher in multiple states—California (+22 cents), Nevada (+6 cents) and Idaho (fractions of a penny).
Both crude oil benchmarks, West Texas Intermediate and Brent, closed out the year posting yearly losses of nearly 30 percent, largely attributed to global supply continuing to outpace demand. Geopolitical tensions in the Middle East appear to be influencing global oil prices, and both benchmarks opened the week posting increases related to worries about supply disruptions in the Persian Gulf region. Saudi Arabia has reportedly cut diplomatic ties with Iran, following an incident that occurred at the Saudi embassy located in Iran, and market watchers will likely be paying close attention to how this situation continues to develop.
The domestic oil market is also being closely monitored for a number of factors that could impact production. The lower price environment is believed to have been a cause of the U.S. rig count falling by nearly two-thirds versus one year ago, and Congress also recently moved to lift the decades-old ban on crude oil exports. Oversupply currently characterizes the domestic oil market, and traders remain focused on domestic production and the global energy landscape.
WTI closed out the year up 44 cents and settled at $37.04 per barrel. The NYMEX was closed on Friday due to the New Year’s Day holiday.