CHICAGO — Consumers in the U.S. saw gasoline prices steam to a record average price in February, but the motor fuel market cooled considerably in March. Contrary to public perception, average first quarter 2013 gas prices averaged below 2012 numbers, GasBuddy reported this week.
In fact, Americans paid about 30 cents per gallon less for gasoline in the most recent Easter Weekend than they paid over the same period in 2012. Gas prices averaged just over $3.64 on Good Friday and may dip further in coming days. Consumers paid just over $3.93 on Easter Weekend last year. GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan estimates that each penny per gallon translates into about $3.6 million per day in cost differences based on typical demand numbers. Hence, consumers are saving about $108 million each day when current costs are compared to last year.
In Great Bend, the average cost was $3.43 Thursday. With the Kansas average a shade over $3.49, kansasgasprices.com reports the lowest prices in the state were in Topeka and Osage City at $3.33 and the highest was in McPherson at $3.79.
The average first quarter 2013 price, compiled by GasBuddy, was $3.548 gal, compared with a $3.584 gal price level in the first quarter of 2012. As recently as 2009, the first quarter gasoline price averaged under $1.90 gal, so these are still stiff numbers when compared with 21st century historical values. Ten years ago, U.S. gasoline prices averaged under $1.59 gal for the same period.
GasBuddy ranked 363 distinct “Metropolitan Statistical Areas” or MSAs, and found two U.S. markets that actually averaged less than $3 during the entire first quarter. Fortunate motorists in Casper and Cheyenne, Wyoming found an average first quarter 2013 price of $2.87 and $2.955, respectively, down about 16 cents from last year. The Rocky Mountain region was the most attractively priced area of the country, thanks in part to relatively cheap North American crude availability for refiners.
In all, 300 Metropolitan Statistical Areas saw cheaper first quarter prices for gasoline than in 2012, with two MSAs showing no statistically significant change. More expensive markets in 2013 included locations in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The most expensive market in the country was the Honolulu area, but the outright price of $4.157 gal this year was just 3 cents above the 2012 number.
Highest prices were generally witnessed along the New England coastline as well as Florida, California and the Pacific Northwest and the cheapest prices were in the Rockies and Great Plains.
Diversity in gasoline pricing approached record levels. GasBuddy estimates that a discriminating shopper could save an average $1.13 per gallon in Washington, D.C., for example. Other markets that saw huge differences between best prices and the top of the market included California, where motorists could slash costs between 50 cents to as much as $1 if they fueled based on the cheapest price available.
Despite the recent downtrend, GasBuddy is reluctant to say that motorists have seen the peak pricing level for gasoline in 2013. Hot spots which could see local gasoline price spikes include Great Lakes’ states and Northeastern metropolitan areas, for example. Prices could swing dramatically in the heartland thanks to extensive spring maintenance for Midwestern refineries, and the East Coast could be impacted by sagging foreign imports of gasoline.