JPMorgan predicts $6 gasoline by the end of the summer

Consumers are already feeling pinched at the pump with gas prices at record levels, and it could be about to get worse, according to JPMorgan. The firm forecasts the national average surging above $6 come August, topping out at $6.20 for a gallon of regular gasoline. If these prices come to fruition, JPMorgan said it would “pose significant upside risks to [the firm’s] inflation forecast.” The national average for a gallon of gas hit $4.593 on Friday, according to AAA , a record. Prices are up 48 cents over the last month, and $1.55 higher than a year ago. All 50 states now have an average above $4, and California’s statewide average is now above $6 per gallon. “With expectations of strong driving demand — traditionally, the US summer driving season starts on Memorial Day, which lands this year on May 30, and lasts until Labor Day in early September — US retail price could surge another 37% by August to a $6.20/gal national average,” JPMorgan said Tuesday in a note to clients. The surge in oil prices is the primary factor driving gasoline’s jump, although it’s not the only factor. Taxes and marketing costs also influence prices. West Texas Intermediate crude futures , the U.S. oil benchmark, traded around $112 per barrel on Friday, bringing the year-to-date gain to roughly 50%. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has roiled global energy markets, but crude was already climbing prior to the war. Producers cut output during the pandemic when demand for petroleum products fell off a cliff, and that followed years of underinvestment in the sector due to poor returns and depleted commodity prices. Now, demand has rebounded while supply has remained constrained, which has pushed up prices. Rapidly rising energy costs are a major contributor to the decades-high inflation readings seen across the economy. Government data released Wednesday showed that in the week ending Mary 13 gasoline inventories declined by 4.8 million barrels. All told, inventory is roughly 8% below the five-year average for this time of year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. Inventory typically builds during the spring months in anticipation of the busy summer driving season. But the U.S.’ refining capacity has declined, and with Russia’s petroleum products shunned the world is now competing for refined products. JPMorgan noted that gasoline stockpiles on the East Coast are now at the lowest since 2011. The firm said that higher-than-normal exports is playing a large role. “If exports persist at this elevated pace and refinery runs–already near the top of the range for reasonable utilization rates–fall within our expectations, gasoline inventories could continue to draw to levels well below 2008 lows and retail gasoline prices could climb to $6/gal or even higher,” the firm said. — CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed reporting.

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