Tag Archives: petrol

Petrol Price Update

Another five months on since my last petrol price update and oil prices have continued to rise, but so has the value of the Australian dollar. So while crude oil prices in US dollars are up around 75% since their lows in February, they are only up 29% in Australian dollar terms.

WTI Prices - USD and AUDWest Texas Intermediate Oil Prices

The Australian dollar has been rising steadily for the last six months, pushed along by the Reserve Bank of Australia which has started raising their target cash rate. Higher interest rates in Australia make it more attractive for offshore investors to buy Australian securities and they have to buy Australian dollars to do so. Australian investors holding foreign assets may do the same.

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Oil Prices on the Rise?

Prompted by an article entitled “Bust and Boom” in the current issue of The Economist, I have decided it is time to dust off a Stubborn Mule staple: the petrol price model. As The Economist notes, following last year’s precipitous fall, oil prices have been climing again over the last few months. The West Texas Intermediate oil price per barrel (bbl) has almost doubled in US dollar terms and, despite a stronger Australian dollar, the price in Austalian dollars is not far behind.


West Texas Intermediate Oil Prices

Rising oil prices may seem odd in a world economy still under the influence of the Global Financial Crisis (aka the GFC), but The Economist points the finger at the collapse in investment in oil exploration and development of new fields. This raises the fear that, while oil inventories are currently in record excess, once these inventories are drained, digging up more oil is getting harder and, consequently more expensive.

So where does this leave Sydney motorists? The simple regression model I have used before is still showing a tight relationship between wholesale oil prices (in this case refined Singapore 97 oil prices) and prices at the bowser. If The Economist’s fears are justified, petrol prices will be reaching $1.30/L very soon and will be headed north from there.Updated Petrol Model

Data source: Bloomberg and the Australian Automobile Association.

Australian Prices Heading South

Yesterday’s quarterly inflation release, which showed prices falling by 0.3% over the December quarter across Australia, cemented expectations of a 1% cut in interest rates in February. How things have changed! My very first Stubborn Mule post back in May 2008 examined the inflationary pressures that had so concerned the Reserve Bank and led them to keep interest rates high well into the financial crisis. In that post I used a heatmap to dig down into the drivers of inflation, and a quick comparison of the latest December inflation rate with inflation six months earlier gives a very clear illustration of where prices are falling.

CPI Dec 08 (qoq)

Austalian Quarterly Inflation – Dec 2008
(click to enlarge)

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Rudd, Carbon and the Price of Petrol

Power StackAustralia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, triggered waves of protests from environmentalists this week when he annouced that Australia’s target for emissions for 2020 would be a mere 5% reduction from the levels in 2000. With substantial commitments to emission reductions from other countries around the world, this target would be increased to 15%. The Government was at pains to point out that Australia’s population growth makes this target more ambitious than it sounds. However, by world standards Australia’s emissions are very high, whether measured per capita or by gross domestic product. This means that Australia should have more scope for relatively inexpensive emissions reductions than many other countries.

So 5% does seem to be a very unsatisfactory target. If you are a climate-change skeptic, even a 5% target is a needless waste of time and money, while if you take forecasts of climate-change seriously it seems woefully inadequate. However, rather than focusing on the target itself, in this post I will look at the implications that the Government’s plan will have where consumers will see it most directly, on the price of petrol.

In their White Paper on the carbon reduction scheme, the Government proposes a cap on the price of carbon of $40 per tonne for the next 5 years while, for their financial impact modelling, a price of $25 per tonne has been assumed. In an earlier post I calculated the impact of the price of carbon on the price of petrol. Here are the results for a range of carbon prices.

Cost of

Petrol Price
10 2.4
20 4.8
25 6.0
30 7.2
40 9.6

So, if the Government’s assumption is correct that the price of carbon will initially be around $25 per tonne, we can expect an increase in petrol prices of 6 cents per litre. Even if the price of carbon reaches the $40 cap, the impact on petrol prices will only be around 10 cents per litre. I say “only” because that 10 cents is small compared to extraordinary moves in petrol prices seen over the last year due to movements in the price of crude oil. From July to November, the price of petrol in Sydney fell by almost 40 cents per litre, according to prices published by the Australian Automobile Association, and based on my observations has fallen another 20 cents since then. Even compared to the 38 cents per litre fuel excise, 10 cents seems a modest figure. The chart below shows the dramatic moves in petrol prices along with projected prices based on the daily price of Singapore 95 refined oil, based on a regression model I have used in a number of posts in the past.

Petrol - Dec 2008

Introducing an emissions trading scheme for carbon will eventually affect a wide range of consumer prices, but based on the relatively small increase in petrol prices that it will produce, the scheme is not likely to have a significant impact on consumer behaviour. The scheme will do all its work on the behaviour of businesses and, given the dire financial straits we find ourselves in today, this is presumably why the Government has been so unambitious with their target. But this does also highlight that there is a lot more that the Government could be doing to reduce consumer carbon emissions beyond the trading scheme itself.

Photo Source: Foto43 on flickr (Creative Commons).

Collapsing Oil Prices

The actions of Governments around the world to guarantee or recapitalise banks is starting to bring some stability to the financial sector, but markets are now expecting a worldwide economic slowdown and with it a dramatic decline in demand for oil. This has led to a collapse in the US dollar price of oil and, despite large falls in the value of the Australian dollar, even in Australian dollars oil has reached its lowest level this year.

Brent Crude Oil Prices*

On last night’s ABC news report, financial journalist Alan Kohler showed a chart of oil prices and petrol prices and questioned whether motorists were seeing price falls coming through to the bowser. This prompted me to revisit the regression model I have used in a number of previous posts. As I suspected, retail petrol prices as reported by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) continue to track wholesale prices closely. While the AAA only publishes a monthly timeseries, they do publish a price each day supplied from FUELtrac, so I have also added a red dot on the chart showing today’s FUELtrac price. Contrary to Kohler’s conclusions, it is clear that petrol prices are falling in line with wholesale prices (in Sydney at least) and, subject to the fortunes of our dollar, it looks as though prices will be back below $1.30 per litre before long.

Sydney Petrol Price Regression Model*

*Data source: Australian Automobile Association, Bloomberg.

Weak Dollar and Australian Petrol Prices

The world’s financial markets have shifted their focus from oil supply problems to the demand side of the equation. They appear to have decided that the US and European economies look so dire that oil consumption will collapse. As a result, oil prices have been in free-fall, barely staying above US$100 per barrel. If the recent hostilities in Georgia had taken place a couple of months earlier, oil prices would almost certainly have shot up. But with the shift in focus, they scarcely reacted to the conflict.

Unfortunately for Australian motorists, a weak Australian dollar is preventing the full effect of lower oil prices coming though to the price of petrol at the pump. Oil is not the only commodity to see price declines, not good news for the currency of a commodity producing country. More significantly, the Reserve Bank has started cutting interest rates and the dollar is moving down alongside rates. Since the end of July, the dollar has fallen almost as much as oil. The result, evident in the graphs below, is that oil prices have not fallen nearly as much in Australian dollar terms as they have in US dollar terms.

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Update on Sydney Petrol Prices

A little while ago I wrote about the relationship between crude oil prices and the price Sydney motorists are paying for petrol at the pump. The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has now released their price data for June and, not surprisingly, prices continued to track moves implied by rising crude oil prices. The simple regression model suggested that average prices would be up 8 cents/litre. The AAA data shows a rise of 10 cents/litre in the average Sydney price.

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The Price of Carbon for Petrol

Commenting on my petrol prices post, Mark Lauer suggested that excise on petrol should in fact be increased to deal with negative externalities:

Personally I think we should be increasing the excise. It represents the many negative externalities that car use in our society creates: carbon emissions, use of space for (larger) roads; materials, construction and maintenance of (larger) roads; particulate pollution; deaths and injuries from road accidents, and so on, all of which scale with mileage and hence fuel use. And our understanding of all these factors is moving in the direction of increased disutility. Hence the charges should be increased.

I’ve been thinking about petrol and carbon emissions a bit over the last few weeks, so this is as good a prompt as any to put down my thoughts here on the Mule. I should also point out that I have Mark to thank for the back of the envelope calculation that I’ll discuss here.

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Sydney Petrol Prices

Soaring petrol prices have led to all sorts of calls for action to help reduce prices. The Opposition called for a 5 cents per litre reduction in the excise on petrol, which currently stands at 38.1 cents per litre. (See note below for an explanation of the strike-throughs). the abolition of the double taxation of petrol by eliminating Goods and Services Tax (GST) on petrol excise. Since the excise is currently 38.1 cents per litre, this would save 3.8 cents per litre. One Victorian Liberal MP, Chris Pearce, went further and called for a 10 cent reduction in petrol excise. The Rudd Government initially claimed that there was nothing more that they could do, but then buckled to the pressure and has proposed the introduction of a national FuelWatch scheme aimed at promoting price transparency at the bowser. The Minister for Competition Policy & Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen, has indicated that this scheme is expected to save around 2 cents per litre. So, what is going on with petrol prices and what are the merits of these proposals?

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