Tag Archives: Oil Companies

What’s Wrong With This Picture ?

credit: The New York Times / Sandy Huffaker

As just about everyone whose body temperature is above room temperature knows by now, gasoline prices have gone through the roof. You pretty much expect to see even higher prices each time you pass a gas station.

Most of us wonder who it is that is profiting from these spiraling prices. Many of us expect to see gas shortages, long gas lines, and gas rationing pretty soon. At the same time, station owners are crying poverty, claiming they make only pennies on each gallon of gas sold.

Then would someone please explain the prices in the above photo, from this New York Times article published May 24, 2008 ? We are hesitant to use the term “price gouging”, but there doesn’t seem to be any plausible explanation for the price differential between the “credit” and “full serve” pricing at this Union 76 station in La Jolla, California (The Union 76 brand is owned by ConocoPhillips). While not clear from the photo, we believe that the “credit price” implies self-service. In fact, why in the world would the credit card price be lower than paying cash, in the first place, self-service or not ? And why would gas at the full service pump be up to $1.20 a gallon more expensive ? Something stinks in La Jolla, and we don’t think it’s the MTBE in the gas. Do supermarkets that have self-service checkout lanes charge $1.00 more per item if you pay at a register with a real live honest-to-goodness cashier ?

Here in the Northeast U.S., gas stations generally set a single price for gasoline, regardless of whether you pay with cash or credit card. If a station differentiates between self-service and full-service (which is a misnomer anyway), it is generally a few cents a gallon.

While we’re on the subject of “full service”, when was the last time a gas station offered to check your tire pressure, oil level, coolant level, etc., or wash your windshield ? Full service my foot. We doubt most of the gas jockeys working at these stations would know how to open your hood, much less find your dipstick. Most of the time, you’re lucky if they can find where to insert the gas nozzle, and if they speak English. We wouldn’t pay one cent more for their supposed “full service”.

ExxonMobil just announced that they will be selling all of their company-owned gas stations to their distributors or to other buyers, because there’s no money in the retailing end of the business. Well, when you can make record-setting obscene profit by refining the product, we suppose you might loose interest in the lower profit parts of the business. (It’s sort of like why bank robbers never demand coins, preferring the paper money instead.) Maybe ExxonMobil should use the price model that Union 76 is using at the above station. If they could add up to $1.20 profit per gallon to their sales, we suspect that owning the stations suddenly becomes very profitable indeed !

Getting back to our original question of “What’s wrong with this picture?” we think there are many things wrong on many levels. Why is gasoline $4.00 or $5.00 a gallon, and climbing? Why hasn’t the United States done more to lessen our dependence on foreign oil? Why is this country in love with gas-guzzling vehicles? (although that is starting to change). Why are the big oil companies allowed to rake in record profits, while much of America is hurting from the spiraling cost of energy? Why aren’t we seeing more government mandates or inducements to effect energy conservation, such as carpooling, discounts on mass transit fares, tax breaks to employers who encourage telecommuting, restrictions on the use of non-essential lighting, etc? (When there’s a water shortage, restrictions are put in place on non-essential water use. We think the same should be done regarding non-essential energy use, especially by commercial users.) How about giving free bicycles or scooters (or tax breaks) to city-dwellers (or anyone) who pledge to go car-free at least one day a week?

Oh, and does anybody actually opt for the “full serve” pumps at this, or any other Union 76 station ?

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – Another suspicious thing about the prices displayed in the above photo is that all the prices are in the form $ xx9.9 ! While it is customary for gas retailers to always tack on that 9/10 of a cent, it looks like some retailers, this station included, have adopted the practice of tacking on 9.9 cents to everything. We guess the next logical step is to go to the $ x99.9 pricing model, where all grades of gas will sell for $4.99, $5.99, $6.99 a gallon, etc. Why bother raising the price by 10 cents or 20 cents every couple of days. Just start raising it in one-dollar-a-gallon increments.

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Stimulus, Schmimulus ! Why The U.S. Economic Stimulus Plan Won’t Have Much Effect

They are saying that the President’s economic stimulus package might be agreed upon today. Woo Hoo. Happy days are here again.

But wait a minute… I can still hear that “giant sucking sound”,  and it’s getting louder (oh, how I wish I could have found a clip on youtube of Ross Perot coining that wonderful phrase). What will the U.S. economic stimulus plan actually accomplish? Will it lower the U.S. trade deficit or increase it? Will it lower the unemployment rate? Will it have any effect on the crumbling real estate market? We believe that the proposed U.S. economic stimulus plan will not work. It is an attempt at a quick fix. It is an ill-conceived band-aid approach to what ails the U.S. economy, proposed by an administration that does not seem to grasp the root causes responsible for the American economy being in deep, deep trouble.

What the United States needs now is something along the lines of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which put Americans to work and helped pull the country out of the Great Depression. The WPA existed between 1935 and 1943. A chicken in every pot, and two hybrid (or electric) cars in every garage wouldn’t be a bad idea either. (We’ve copyrighted that new twist on an old campaign phrase, so if Rudy, Hillary, Barack or John want to talk, you know how to reach us.) It’s quite likely that many of the government buildings and infrastructure projects in the American city or town where you live today were constructed by the WPA during that period. The WPA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal programs.

Taking the money the U.S. government is proposing to distribute as tax rebates, and putting it into a massive infrastructure improvement program would have several benefits, both immediate and long-lasting. It would…

– Provide long-term employment for millions of Americans

– Stimulate spending by reducing the unemployment rate, and giving the currently-employed higher incomes

– Repair or replace our crumbling infrastructure, particularly bridges

– Provide an infrastructure that will facilitate future economic growth

– Keep the money in America rather than giving the recipients of the rebate checks the ability to buy even more imported goods, a major reason we’re in this mess to begin with

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that every taxpayer in the United States gets a check for $1,000 (although it looks like many, if not most Americans will receive far less). Let’s say that Americans will spend every one of those checks rather than putting the money in the bank. Where will that money go?

If you’re about to loose your home to foreclosure, chances are good that that rebate check wouldn’t even allow you to make a single mortgage payment. Even if it does, that’s just postponing the inevitable for a few more weeks.

Perhaps you will take that rebate check and go on a shopping spree at Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Target. Wal-Mart is already America’s largest retailer and largest employer, but bigger is always better. If Wal-Mart grows, that means more low wage jobs for Americans. It means more Americans with little or no healthcare coverage. It means paving over more open land for new parking lots and big-box stores. It means more tough times for the few American manufacturers left, who are already being squeezed by the way Wal-Mart deals with their vendors.

About the only place you can spend that rebate check where the majority of the products are made in USA is at the grocery store. Unfortunately, for most Americans, eating is not a discretionary activity, and the amount of money you spend at the grocery checkout is unlikely to be influenced to any measurable extent by your rebate check.

Ben Bernanke will probably tell you that buying goods is exactly what you should do with your new found windfall. But wait a minute. As I’ve pointed out in this blog, and what you already know, unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few years, is that the vast majority of consumer goods you’ll find on retailer’s shelves are imported, overwhelmingly from China. In fact, we think that China will be the real winner if Americans go on a shopping spree. If you doubt this, just wait a few months and look at how our trade deficit with China increases as a result of this plan. Go to the mall and try to find clothing, shoes, toys, hardware or housewares made in USA. You won’t.

How is buying foreign goods supposed to help the U.S. economy? The U.S. national debt is being increased substantially by the stimulus plan in the first place. Buying foreign goods will only increase the trade deficit. Few American jobs will be created by this plan. That’s because we manufacture few products here any more, with the notable exception of food products, and even those are increasingly being imported.

With the cost of heating your home and filling your gas tank becoming an unaffordable luxury for many Americans, perhaps all of us should use our rebate checks to buy fuel oil or gasoline. The oil producing countries would love that more than oil itself. The American oil companies would support that too. Despite the fact that the oil companies have been raking in record profits, you can never be too rich, or too thin. On second thought, I think we will just cash our rebate check and ask the teller to give it to us in one dollar bills only. Then we’ll take the cash home, and use it as kindling in our fireplace. That’s one way to stay warm this winter, and it should reduce our heating bill slightly. Is it illegal to burn money?

About the smartest use we think you could put that rebate check to would be as a down payment on a hybrid or other low-emission or zero-emission vehicle. That would reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil, while helping the environment at the same time. The only problem is that very few low-emission vehicles, and almost no zero-emission vehicles are being manufactured today. And chances are good that your next car will be a foreign make that might not even be assembled in America anyway. So much for stimulating employment.

The biggest reason that the economic stimulus plan will not have any significant or long-lasting effect on the U.S. economy, is that it does nothing to address the two underlying causes of our economic problems; loss of jobs (particularly loss of good paying jobs) and the U.S. trade deficit. Until those issues are addressed, the administration can throw all the money they want at the problem, but it won’t go away. The deepening economic recession will turn into a depression, as sure as Winter will be followed by Spring.

I just came across a posting on the AFL-CIO’s website outlining their views regarding what a U.S. economic stimulus plan should include. Unfortunately, it looks like a couple of their suggestions which were originally announced by the President as being part of the package, have been eliminated in the final draft. Although I have never belonged to a labor union, I was struck by how many of their ideas match my thinking on the subject.

Maybe those rebate checks should come with the stipulation that they are not to be spent on food, imported goods or foreign oil, gas-guzzling vehicles, and may not be burned.

– RoutingByRumor

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