Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reality Check: America's Gas Pains?

Gasoline pump, Naples Italy, March 11, 2012   photo, la Republica

A March 11, 2012 front page story in the Italian daily, la Republica, detailed a new record high for gasoline prices in Naples, Italy. While drivers were wailing about gasoline being $3.58 a gallon here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Neapolitans were upset over regular gasoline being priced at what would be $9.58 per US gallon.

Gasoline in Italy is priced per liter. A liter, for those not metrically inclined, is a little less than 34 ounces or 1.1 quart. The pump in the photo above shows a price of 1.917 Euros per liter, or close to U.S. $2.53 a quart, at the conversion rate on March 11. 2012. Try to picture filling your family or business vehicle a quart at a time at $2.53 a quart.

I looked up the cost of a gallon of gas across Europe in March 11, 2012 when Naples hit the $9.58 a gallon record:
1. Belgium 1.68 euros per liter - $9.08 USD/gal.
2. Florence, Italy, 1.55 euros per liter - $8.38 USD/gal.
3. Luzerne, Switzerland 1.97 franc per liter- $8.86 USD/gal.
4. Netherlands 1.42 euro per liter - $7.68 USD/gal.
5. Fountain Bleu, France 1.62 euro per liter - $8.75 USD/gal
6. Munich, Germany 1.64 per liter - $8.86 USD/gal.
Gasoline has always been more expensive in Europe for a number of reasons. But the specter of $4.00 a gallon gasoline in the USA has caused a real uproar with cable news talking heads threatening the unimaginable possibility of four buck gasoline before the end of this year. They are even calling for opening our strategic emergency oil reserves with the threat of four buck gas. Breaking news folks today rarely consult even recent history.

We had $4.00 a gallon gas back in June of 2008 as speculators pushed up the price of crude oil just like we are seeing today. But by the end of December, 2008, the bubble popped and crude oil prices plummeted to less than $37 a barrel. The U.S. average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline fell to an amazing 5-year low of $1.61.

That we were paying only two-fifty something a gallon here on the Gulf Coast just a few months ago is an interesting historical benchmark. Consider that in May of 2005 they were paying U.S. $5.96 a gallon in bella Napoli. Their good old days. It will be interesting to see how far gasoline prices fall after the current 2012 bubble pops. And it will ... after November.

Gasoline prices in the USA have gone up in the past few months just as in 2008 almost completely as a result of unregulated Wall Street futures traders and speculators artificially forcing up the cost of a barrel of oil. Today they are using worries about economic and political instability in Europe and the Middle East and the unreality of a presidential election year to inflate their bubble. A bubble that is forcing drivers already facing tough economic times to pay for this uncontrolled speculation which had a barrel of oil up to $112.61 last month.

America actually has a surplus of refined petroleum products in the USA today because of more fuel efficient cars and a serious change in driving habits here after similar gasoline price spikes in 2008. US refineries are actually exporting refined gasoline abroad. Refinery inventory figures indicate no gasoline shortage in the USA.

However, never one to miss a play in fantasy politics, as gasoline prices have moved upwards in recent months, Newt Gingrich trotted out a new campaign promise to bring Americans gasoline for $2.50 a gallon "when he is elected." And there are many, many voters who cling to that same fantasy.

Most Americans have not lived anywhere other than in America, and many still live not too far from the gas pumps in the towns where they were raised. Folks my age still remember gas for 25 cents a gallon when we were kids. This older generation, soon retiring or already retired, will always want gasoline to be a couple or three bucks a gallon.

The present administration is being ridiculously blamed by strident GOP critics for the annual increase in gasoline prices which we have seen many times before, under many U.S. administrations in years past. Here's a quick reality check:
Filling up that 25 gallon tank on a big tricked out Ford F150 8 cyl 4WD pickup that gets 13MPG, or any other vehicle for that matter, at Naples gas prices it would be around $240 U.S. for a fill up.

Filling up that same 25 gallon tank in the U.S. even with $4.00 a gallon gasoline would be $100.00. And don't look for gas to come back to a couple of bucks a gallon this time.
Reality Check over.

Conversion to the price per U.S. gallon:
As of March 11, 2012 the 1.917 Euros / liter = $2.53 U.S. Dollars / liter
One U.S. Gallon = 3.7854118 liters
$2.53 X 3.7854118 = $9.57709185 or $9.58 a gallon

graphic by Larry Ray