California crisis means $4 gas for a while

Refinery problems and speculative bets keep pressure on pumps nationwide.

By Jason Notte Oct 5, 2012 1:40PM

Gas prices in California rose as much as 20 cents per gallon between Thursday night and Friday morning, and the state's fuel shortage is just one reason U.S. gas prices will flirt with $4 for a while.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California is nearly $4.49, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That's the highest in the country and far exceeds the roughly $3.89-a-gallon national average reported by the Energy Information Administration -- still a record for this time of year.

If you own an Exxon-Mobil (XOM) station near San Francisco, your prices are likely closer to $4.60. Even high-volume Costco (COST) gas stations can't offer any relief, as the Los Angeles Times reported that the big-box retailer had to shut down some of its pumps.

"We do not know when we will be resupplied," read a sign at one Southern California Costco, according to the Times. 

In some areas of the car-happy state, prices have jumped 40 cents in a week as refinery problems have created shortages and helped send wholesale prices soaring. Among the recent disruptions, an Aug. 6 fire at a Chevron (CVX) refinery in Richmond has one of the region's largest refineries producing at reduced capacity. A power failure in Southern California has affected an Exxon Mobil refinery, and a Chevron pipeline that moves crude to Northern California also was shut down.

Image, buying gas, copyright moodboard, Corbis, CorbisWhile all of the above is putting pressure on California pumps, other forces far beyond the state's borders are fueling price increases and a sticky nationwide slide from $4 a gallon. There hasn't been a refinery built in the U.S. since 1976, which means each time one goes offline for a bit or shuts down, the gap between crude oil and gasoline supplies widens. Commodities brokers know this all too well and are starting to place huge bets on commodities futures as peak winter heating demand nears.

As noted by Fortune, a recently released United Nations report explicitly states that the "financialization" of commodities markets -- "hundreds of billions of dollars of bets placed on expectations of temporarily rising prices" for energy, food and other goods -- is the "root cause" of elevated prices. That's right, a bunch of folks sitting at home barking orders to traders as if it were a scene from "Trading Places" helped boost gasoline prices, which in turn pushed this summer's global oil prices 65% higher than the averages reached during the commodity price boom of 2003 to 2008.

"Investors treat commodities as an asset class, which means that they are betting on a certain price trend during the period they are invested in commodity assets," the UN said. "They do not trade systematically on the basis of fundamental supply and demand relationships in single markets, even if shocks in those markets may influence their behavior temporarily."

In a fuel market in which drivers already think prices are headed toward $5 a gallon, commodities brokers and investors aren't just potentially funneling populist anger away from fuel companies and toward Wall Street. They're building that anger a pipeline.

Oct 5, 2012 5:33PM
The government is all about money money money they truly DONT care about the US citizens. We try and scrape by week to week and take care of our families work where we can hopefully find work and we all have to play this stupid game with the government. If we dont we will have nothing. I just wish to god we could clean the government up and get some realistic honest caring people in there (you know the people that believe in working for their money just not sitting around making up stupid unrealistic prices for things and laws) this country would alot better of a place. I am truly sorry to the next generation that has to deal with the aftermath!!!
Oct 5, 2012 5:28PM

It's $4.79 / gal. here in Northern California.  It hasn't been below $4 here in quite some time.


Oct 5, 2012 5:25PM

I thought high gas prices are Bush's fault, that he had a leve under his desk that controlled the price on every gas pump in america, all he had to do was ratchet up the price whenever his buddies wanted more money?


I guess the media lied to us for eight years......just saying.


One and Done.

Oct 5, 2012 5:24PM
When are the majority of you who blame this on the past and current presidents going to realize... this is not about who is elected into office, it's about control on a much grander scale. Whether it's Bush, Obama or Romney, they all have been and are puppets to the financial pyramid that's been labeled the New World Order.

If all you can do is complain and point fingers on this forum, then you are no better than the people in power who make us fight amongst ourselves. Get a grip, come together, and do something about it. That is all.
Oct 5, 2012 5:19PM
Here's the part that cracks me up. We have 500% more 0 emission cars that take NO gas at all on the roads since 2010, but gas prices have doubled. Shows these vehicles don't help anything but the EPA and the car manufacturers. The EPA, there's another joke that should have the punchline told and sent on its way. Matter of fact, they should use CalTrans and its employee's to carry both of those departments to there grave, they both waste more money than the whole U.S. combined. 
Oct 5, 2012 5:13PM

we heard it coming several months ago when blow bama said we should be paying what Europeans are paying for gas. ALL of the politicians who are currently seated in Washington should be ousted and replaced with people who have no ties there. let them all know we have the power to control how they vote with ours. there is never a reason for our gas price to be this high other than corporate greed and price gouging. USA is the 4th largest exporter of crude! get that! we need to keep it and our foreign aid money here and take care of our economy and home folks first and foremost..  to HELL with opec and the jihadist countries that don't like our freedoms. how come so many of them want to come here or want to change our way of living? It's time we quit worrying about all the others and do what it takes to get America back on track and in focus with GOD!


Oct 5, 2012 4:58PM
I just love how our euro friends try to compare their fuel prices and ours.  Hey folks you are paying for insurance and a whole lot of other socialist programs with your fuel prices we are just getting raked! 
Oct 5, 2012 4:53PM
Thank you President Obama... can't wait for you to get another 4 years.  Maybe it will be 8 dollars a gallon when you recommend Biden to take over for you. 
Oct 5, 2012 4:47PM
What a bunch of bull&*(( IF I FART THE WRONG WAY GAS GOES UP!!
Oct 5, 2012 4:47PM
"There hasn't been a refinery built in the U.S. since 1976." Wow, thanks to our wonderful regulations, we're screwed.
Oct 5, 2012 4:44PM

Meanwhile gas sells for .24 cents a gallon in Venezuela while our government sends Chavez more money in government aid. Hey Hugo why don't you lets us federalize Citgo for you.


Oct 5, 2012 4:43PM
Yeah, big shocker!  Obama's energy Secy. Chu said he wants to see gas at $8/gal., like in Europe.  So, where is the shock?  Yea, re-elect BS Obama.
Oct 5, 2012 4:42PM
try living in the UK  petrol(gasoline} is at present  £1 39pence a litre  yes a litre!!!!!!!!!! and still rising
Oct 5, 2012 4:41PM
Every problem that California has has been caused by the California Legislators who were elected by the people. It id their problem let them fix it. They are a big State and have plenty of money. Raise Taxes and hasten everyones mass escudos
Oct 5, 2012 4:41PM
How come when oil was $145 a barrel, gas was $4 a gallon.  Now, oil is $90 a barrel, but gas is $4 a gallon.  "Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do".
Oct 5, 2012 4:37PM

I am totaly P...teed off with the gas dictators! Now is the time to bring it back to them without hurting yourself. Go out and fill up the tank on your car. For 1 week, or more, don't refill, at least at a major supplier. Exxon, Mobil, Bp, etc. I know, if your liveliness relies on it, so be it.But if we can let's put a hurting on these guys and the gov't that supports them. By gov't. I don't mean Obama, I don't like him, but it's not him, it's the whole biased bunch of money grabbers we have running this country, dems and reps.

The oil companies have to be investigated, as to their gouging of the public their ulterior motive!

I don't think that I am alone in noticing that when the price of a barrel of oil goes up there is an immediate increase of gas at the pumps, however, when there is a decrease in the price of a barrel of oil it takes weeks for the pump prices to decrease! Is this not gouging?

Now, for one week, fill your tank at a non-major gas station, and if you can not refill for a week or more!

Oct 5, 2012 4:36PM

Here is the really funny part about California and Gas. They have mandated that the Gas they sell in California has so many "Green" Additives such MBDT that they cannot bring in Gas from a neighboring States to make up for the shortage.

This should help the Traffic Problem in LA

Oct 5, 2012 4:33PM
ah lets speculate,iran is going to block the strait of hormuz,china is going to buy up alllllllllllllll the oil in the world and russia is going to secretly build a pipeline under alaska and steal our oil there we go,that should raise the price! speculation is wat raises the price of oil idiots
Oct 5, 2012 4:33PM
Earthycat has no stocks.  He owns a grass cutting business and hires illegals and pays no taxes
Oct 5, 2012 4:33PM

Four dollar gas here for a while...until it goes up not down.


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