Gasoline station owners in the Los Angeles area including Costco Wholesale Corp. are beginning to shut pumps because of supply shortages that have driven wholesale fuel prices to record highs.
Costco’s outlet in Simi Valley, 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, ran out of regular gasoline yesterday and was selling premium fuel at the price of regular, Jeff Cole, Costco’s vice president of gasoline, said by telephone. The company hasn’t been able to find enough unbranded summer-grade gasoline to keep its stations supplied, he said.
The gasoline shortage “feels like a hurricane to me, but it’s the West Coast,” Cole said yesterday. “We’re obviously extremely disheartened that we are unable to do this, and we’re pulling fuel from all corners of California to fix this.”
Spot, or wholesale, gasoline in Los Angeles has surged 70 cents this week to a premium of $1.15 a gallon versus gasoline futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the highest level for the fuel since at least November 2007, when Bloomberg began publishing prices there. On an outright basis, the fuel jumped to $3.9495 a gallon.
Gasoline at the pump gained 8.3 cents to $4.315 a gallon in California yesterday, according to AAA.com, 53.1 cents more than the national average of $3.784. In Los Angeles the price was $4.347. Gasoline futures for November delivery on the Nymex rose 7.45 cents to $2.874 a gallon at 9:16 a.m. today, after falling yesterday to a 10-week low. Retail price movements tend to lag behind those of futures.
Low-P, a gasoline station in Calabasas, California, 30 miles west of Los Angeles, stopped selling unleaded gasoline Oct. 2 and ran out of high-octane and medium-octane fuel yesterday, John Ravi, the station’s owner, said by phone yesterday. Ravi said he posted an “Out of Gasoline” sign on each pump and took down the prices outside his shop.
“I can get gas, but it’s going to cost me $4.90 a gallon, and I can’t sell it here for $5,” Ravi said. “If you come here right now, I’ve got some diesel left. That’s all. My market is open, but no gas.”
A Chevron Corp. oil pipeline shut down last month, an Oct. 1 power failure at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Torrance refinery and units down at other plants have cut supplies in the market.
Spot California-blend gasoline, or Carbob, in San Francisco surged 26 cents to $1.10 a gallon over futures, also the highest level since at least 2007.
‘Not Worth It’
“We’re going to start shutting pumps Friday,” Sam Krikorian, owner of Quality Auto Repair in North Hollywood, said by phone yesterday. “Gas is costing me almost $4.75 a gallon with taxes. There’s no sense in staying open. The profit margins are so low it’s not worth it.”
Exxon’s 150,000-barrel-a-day Torrance refinery may flare gases for a week as it restores production after a power failure that shut some units and slowed output from others, Gesuina Paras, an Exxon spokeswoman in Torrance, said by e-mail Oct. 2.
Chevron’s Kettleman-Los Medanos pipeline, which carries crude from Kern County to Northern California refineries operated by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy Corp., remained shut after elevated levels of organic chloride were detected in the oil.
Phillips 66 is also scheduled to perform maintenance on process units at its Rodeo and Los Angeles refineries this month, people familiar with the schedules said.
Chevron’s 240,000-barrel-a-day Richmond plant, the largest refinery in Northern California, has been running at reduced capacity since a fire Aug. 6.
’Squeeze is On’
“The squeeze is on, and people are doing desperate things,” Bob van der Valk, an independent petroleum industry analyst in Terry, Montana, said by e-mail yesterday. “The mom- and-pop gas stations are having to close down from either not being able to obtain gasoline from their regular distributor or cannot afford the break-even price of almost $5 per gallon.”
Costco is working on a plan to alert its members as gasoline runs out at the company’s stores “so customers don’t have to guess where to go,” Cole said. The company will sell whatever premium gasoline it has stored for regular gasoline prices wherever supplies run out, he said.
“Costco is a membership warehouse club with a relationship based on trust,” he said. “We’re not delivering what the members asked us to deliver, and that’s not acceptable to us. So we’re doing whatever we can to fix it.”
Van der Valk called the price surge a “a short-term problem.” Wholesale costs should start falling as Exxon’s refinery returns to normal operations and other plants finish maintenance.
The California Independent Oil Marketers Association, a Sacramento-based group that represents wholesale and retail fuel marketers, asked the state yesterday to expedite a waiver that would allow refiners to produce and sell winter-grade fuel, Jay McKeeman, a spokesman for the association, said by telephone yesterday.
“Everybody is concerned about what might happen,” he said. “The real question is: How long is this going to last and what can the state do?”
California’s summer-blend fuel requirements are in effect in Southern California until Oct. 31. The Reid Vapor Pressure, or RVP, limits are lifted in other areas of the state as early as Sept. 30.
The independent gas station owners are typically the first to run out of fuel and shut their pumps when spot prices surge because they often lack long-term contracts to buy from fuel suppliers at set prices, McKeeman said.
Jim Li said yesterday that he may stop selling gasoline at his independent station, Best Auto Care, in San Francisco. He’s charging $4.59 a gallon for the fuel, “and I’m still losing money,” he said.
Wholesale prices are “going up so quick that there’s not even any margin to make any money at all,” he said by telephone.
California-grade, or CARB, diesel in Los Angeles climbed 0.25 cent to 16 cents a gallon above heating oil futures on the Nymex. The fuel in San Francisco gained 2 cents to a premium of 17 cents a gallon versus futures.
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