Gas prices aren't falling fast enough to suit consumers
Pump prices were continuing to fall in California and the rest of the nation, but remain so high in a weak, post-recession economy that some consumers are feeling no relief at all. So people are continuing to cut back, not only on their driving, but on other expenses as well.
The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California reached $3.889, down from $3.930 a week earlier, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. But a year ago, the California average was just $3.013 a gallon. Nationally, the average was dropping at a faster rate, to $3.493 a gallon from $3.588 a week ago. But the national average was just $2.70 a gallon at this time in 2010.
For some, like security guard Michael Stell of Foothill Ranch, a drop of a few pennies a gallon simply is not enough.
Stell lost his job as a master fitness trainer at a well-known national chain of gyms at the end of 2008. As a security guard, Stell said, he makes about half as much money as he did as a trainer. As a consumer, Stell says, he has reduced all of his spending.
At night, at home, he lives with the lights off in all but the room he's occupying. Stell has cut way back on air conditioning and dining out. He's cut his driving in his Ford Ranger truck and PT Cruiser by more than half to get a cheaper rate on his auto insurance.
For recreation, Stell said he used to ride his Harley Davidson Electraglide motorcycle about 15,000 miles a year. This year, Stell says he will keep it to 5,000 miles.
"My dad was an Arco distributor and I know he must be rolling over in his grave about prices like these," Stell said in an interview. "It seems like they always shoot up a lot over a few weeks, and then they drop a little bit, and very slowly. I don't fell good about these prices at all."
Some accelerated price relief may be on the way. Phil Flynn, an analyst with PFGBest Research, said that gasoline prices could drop faster and further if Libyan oil returns to the world market by the end of the year.
Before the fighting that ousted longtime leader Moammar Kadafi, Libya was exporting as much as 1.65 million barrels of oil a day.
Oil gained 10 cents to $79.95 per barrel in midday trading Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude rose 16 cents to $104.13 per barrel.
-- Ronald D. White
Photo: Gas prices are falling, but consumers say they aren't feeling much relief. Above, a woman pumps gas at a service station in Portland, Ore. Credit: Don Ryan, Associated Press