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Energy Department predicted the 2011 boom in U.S. fuel exports

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The 2011 Argus Americas Crude Summit, held in Houston last January, was named "Life After Macondo" and focused on the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But American consumers might have been far more interested in a presentation that ventured far from that script.

Joanne Shore, team leader and lead operations research analyst at the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, and colleague John Hackworth essentially explained why Americans were about to pay more for gasoline in 2011 than they ever had before.

Shore's and Hackworth's analysis (which can be found here) explained why it wouldn't matter that Americans were driving less and using higher-mileage vehicles that burned less fuel. It wouldn't matter that additives like ethanol were lowering the amount of refined oil in every gallon of gasoline.

Even as U.S. refiners were shutting down facilities because of lowered U.S. demand, Shore and Hackworth explained, they had already found thriving and lucrative markets overseas for their products.

Their main points: "world growth in distillate fuels" demand had "provided some attractive export opportunities for U.S. refiners"; U.S. low-sulfur diesel products were more attractive to foreign buyers than higher-sulfur fuel coming out of Russia; and they were far closer to South and Central American markets than distant European competitors.

Their analysis seems to have been correct. In 2007, U.S. fuel exports overseas held steady throughout the year at 1.24 million to 1.25 million barrels a day, according to Energy Department statistics. In 2011, the average export amount reached a record level that was more than twice as high, and the trend accelerated throughout the year.

In November and December, U.S. fuel exports averaged between 2.77 million barrels a day and 2.89 million barrels a day, their highest ever. In the U.S., in 2011, drivers paid an average of about $3.50 a gallon for gasoline, also the highest ever.

Today, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, Californians are paying an average of $3.602 for a gallon of regular, 28.7 cents a gallon more than they have ever paid on Dec. 30. Nationally, the average cost for a gallon of regular today is $3.269 or 19.8 cents a gallon more than ever on this day of the year.

 Also: A December record for gas prices

Global concerns keep oil prices high

U.S. fuel exports reach record levels

--Ronald D. White

Photo: Valero Energy Corp.'s Wilmington refinery. U.S. refiners exported record amounts of fuel to foreign buyers after Energy Department predicted a booming market overseas. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

Gasoline prices climb to record end-of-year highs ... again

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The most expensive year ever for gasoline purchases in the U.S. is heading to a close, but not without one last snatch at motorists' wallets. Pain levels at the pump are rising again in California and across the rest of the nation, assuring that 2011 will mark the second year in a row that prices have posted record December highs.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California on Tuesday is $3.562, up 2.2 cents since last week, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That was enough to shatter the old record for Dec. 27 of $3.301, set last year. Previous to that, the worst that Californians had seen on this day was $3.266 a gallon in 2007.

Nationally, the numbers tell the same story. The U.S. average for a gallon of regular gasoline Tuesday is $3.231, up 1.8 cents since last week. That broke the old record set last year, which was an average of $3.042 a gallon. Before that, the highest U.S. average for this day was $2.981 in 2007.

But Americans aren't complaining as much as they did in 2008 when prices peaked at $4.588 a gallon in California and at $4.114 nationally, said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the AAA of Southern California.

"Holiday travel is still pretty good," Montgomery said. "People still want to reconnect with family and distant friends, go home. That's a pretty resilient thing."

Montgomery added, however, that motorists said that they would only drive about 700 miles for the end of the year holidays or nearly 300 miles less than last year.

ALSO:

Oils tops $100 on security concerns

Oil prices could hit all-time high in 2012

U.S. drivers' spending on gasoline sets a record in 2011

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Michael Reed fills his tank at a service station in Charlotte, N.C. Gasoline prices are at record late-December highs. Credit: Chuck Burton / Associated Press

Consumer Confidential: Holiday shopping, fewer fliers, gas pains

Shoppic

Here's your last-train-to-Clarksville Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--We're still shopping, right down to the wire. Sales at stores opened at least a year rose 3.4% for the week ended Saturday compared with the previous week, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index. That follows two consecutive weekly declines as shoppers took a break after a discount-fueled spending spree over the Thanksgiving weekend. Compared with a year ago, sales for the week rose 4.6%. And there's still more shopping to do. According to a poll of 1,000 shoppers conducted by ICSC and Goldman Sachs, shoppers on average completed 70% of their holiday buying as of Sunday. Moreover, 9% of shoppers polled hadn't even started their holiday buying. Man, talk about procrastinators. (Associated Press)

--And we're still traveling, but not quite as much. The estimate for the upcoming winter holiday travel period predicts there will be fewer fliers than a year ago. A projected 43.3 million air travelers will fly on U.S. carriers for both domestic and international routes during a 21-day period, according to Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines. That's a 1% drop from the same period last year, which translates to about 20,000 fewer passengers on average per day. However, travelers will not find that translates into more leg room once they board planes. On the busiest days, flights will be filled to at least 85% capacity, according to the forecast. (CNN)

--Feeling a bite out of your earnings? That's your gasoline bill talking. Despite the fact that gas prices have been falling in recent weeks, the fact is consumers have spent more money on gas this year than any other, according to the Oil Price Information Service. As of mid-December, gas prices have averaged $3.52 per gallon. Based on recent demand trends, the total consumers will have spent on gas this year should be about $481 billion. Last year, motorists spent a total of $389 billion on gas, according to OPIS. When all of this data is broken down, each American household will have spent an average of $4,155 on gasoline 2011, approximately 8.4% of an average family's income. Ouch. (ConsumerAffairs.com)

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Polls show Americans still have plenty of holiday shopping to do. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 

Consumer Confidential: Holiday travel, higher airfares, Acura redux

Trafficpic
Here's your watching-the-detectives Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

— Downturn, shmownturn. Despite continued worries about the economy, more Americans are expected to hit the highway this holiday season. AAA says it expects 91.9 million Americans — about 30% of the population — to travel at least 50 miles from home during the 11-day, year-end holiday season. That's up 1.4% from a year ago, making it the second-highest travel volume in the past 10 years. The majority (about 91%) of travelers are expected to venture forth by automobile, a 2.1% increase from a year ago. That comes in the face of high prices at the pump, with gas prices 29 cents higher than a year ago. On the other hand, air travel is expected to decline slightly. (CNN Money)

— And there's a reason for that. If you thought it was more expensive to fly this year, you're right. Average domestic airfares rose to $370 in the second quarter of 2011,up 8.5% from the average fare of $341 in the second quarter of 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Second-quarter fares increased 3.9% from the first quarter, the second consecutive quarterly increase. And total prices may be even higher than government says. Fares in the study include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include other charges such as baggage fees, paid at the airport or on board the aircraft. (ConsumerAffairs.com)

— Honda's Acura brand isn't so ritzy after all. The carmaker had always hoped its Acura line could emulate Toyota and Nissan, which successfully propelled the Lexus and Infiniti brands, respectively, into the rarefied luxury-car tier alongside Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Cadillac. It never quite happened, and Honda now says it will try to reposition Acura as a mid-range, fuel-efficient brand. Over the next few years, Acura will introduce a new compact sedan, the ILX, built on Honda's global Civic platform, replacing the TSX. A redesigned RL flagship is expected by next fall, followed by a redesigned mid-sized TL sedan in the spring of 2013. (ConsumerAffairs.com)

— David Lazarus

Photo: Despite economic hard times, more people are expected to hit the road this holiday season. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

 

Very little relief in sight on gasoline prices

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Motorists aren't finding much in the way of price relief at the nation's service stations.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California fell by another 5 cents over the last week, to $3.591, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. But the refrain remains the same: Americans are continuing to pay record high prices for this time of year.

A year ago, Californians were paying an average of $3.253 a gallon. The state's current average is also above the old record for this day of the year, which was $3.328 a gallon in 2007.

Nationally, the story was the same. The U.S. average was down 0.2 cents over the last week, to $3.274, the AAA said, but the price a year ago was $2.974 a gallon. The current price also tops the old record for Dec. 12, which was $2.99 a gallon in 2007.

In other energy news, oil prices fell slightly as OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, opened a new round of talks in Vienna on production quotas.

The U.S. benchmark for commodities trading, West Texas Intermediate crude, lost $1.34 during trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The European standard, Brent North Sea crude, dropped $1.20 to $107.27 on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

"We continue to see volatility" in oil prices," said Patrick DeHaan, senior energy analyst for GasBuddy.com. "One day it's great economic news, then Europe derails the train that pushed oil prices higher and they come back down."

Also

U.S. drivers spent record amount for gasoline in 2011

Back to an electric future for cars

Fewer teens getting drivers licenses

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Customers pump gasoline at a Costco gas station in Winter Park, Fla. Despite recent declines, gas prices across the nation are still higher than they have been in the month of December. Credit: John Raoux / Associated Press

Gas prices fall, but remain at seasonal records

Gas prices continued to fall over the past week in California and across the rest of the nation
Pump prices continued to fall over the past week in California and across the rest of the nation, but they remained at record levels for the end of November.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California today is $3.710, according to AAA. Prices in California have fallen by 13.1 cents a gallon over the last month, but a gallon of gasoline cost only $3.164 on the same day last year. The current price is also 29.5 cents a gallon higher than the old record for this day, which was set in 2007.

Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline today is $3.295, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, which is an average of the daily receipts collected at more than 100,000 service stations across the U.S. That represents a drop of 5.6 cents over the last month. But the average price a year ago was just $2.86 a gallon. The national average is also 19.9 cents a gallon higher than the old record for this day of the month, which was also set in 2007.

In other energy news, oil prices were boosted by big holiday retail sales in the U.S. and by indications that Europe may finally find a way out of its debt crisis.

The U.S. commodities trading benchmark, West Texas Intermediate crude, was up $1.60 to $98.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, the European commodities trading benchmark, Brent North Sea crude, was up $1.82 to $107.58 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange.

RELATED:

Ford is riding fuel-economy demand

Costly mileage plan for state lawmakers

Renewable energy tops fossil fuels for first time

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: A customer pumps gas at a Costco fueling station in Matthews, N.C. Credit: Chuck Burton / Associated Press

Americans on track to spend more than ever on gasoline in 2011

Getprev

The amount of money Americans have spent so far this year on gasoline: $435,679,000,000. Yes, those are billions of dollars. That's on pace to set a new record for the amount that U.S. drivers pay for that fuel in a year.

In 2008, Americans spent $448 billion on gasoline. That is the current record.

In 2008, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $3.25, also the current record for the average over a full year. (By the way, we'll break that record, too. So far, gasoline has averaged $3.539 a gallon across the U.S. in 2011.)

"Unless we have a monthlong event in December like 'The Day The Earth Stood Still,' Americans will spend a record amount on gasoline this year," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey, who provided the numbers.

Every day, on average, Americans are spending $1.33 billion on gasoline.

But gasoline prices have dropped in recent weeks, so U.S. motorists will spend only $1.21 billion on gasoline today.

The new records are being set in spite of reduced demand for gasoline, which has been attributed to more fuel-efficient vehicles, increased fuel additives such as ethanol and the malaise over pain at the pump and the weak recovery that has followed the global recession.

Through the first 11 months of the year, gasoline demand in the U.S. is running 1.5% lower than last year at 8.964 million barrels a day. Over the last four weeks, U.S. demand has been even lower, running 4% below 2010 levels at 8.6 million barrels a day.

Today's national average for a gallon of gasoline is $3.329. In California, the average is $3.747. Both averages, from the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, broke 5-year-old records for the highest prices ever for the date (Nov. 23).

ALSO:

Retail gas prices are falling

Thanksgiving travel costs rising

Rough road to new fuel standards

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Motorists pump gasoline at a Costco in Burbank. Analysts say Americans are driving less this year, but are still spending more than ever on gasoline because of sustained high prices. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

Gasoline prices tumble but remain at seasonal highs

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Retail gasoline prices fell more over the last week than they have in months in both California and around the nation, but don't get too excited. They still have to drop a lot more in the coming weeks to fall below historic highs for this time of the year.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said prices have finally fallen, sinking to their lowest levels since February. But he added, "Many motorists may be giving thanks for the lower gasoline prices -- until they realize that average prices will still easily exceed prior Thanksgiving Day records."

GasBuddy.com operates more than 200 gasoline price-tracking websites, including LosAngelesGasPrices.com, where users continuously report the highest and lowest prices they see.

In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline fell 5.6 cents over the last week $3.764 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That was still 33.9 cents a gallon higher than the old record for Nov. 21 of $3.425 a gallon, set in 2007.

Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular dropped 6.6 cents to $3.351 since last week. That was still 26.2 cents a gallon higher than the old record for Nov. 21 of $3.089 a gallon, also set in 2007.

The good news is that prices should continue to drop, said Phil Flynn, an analyst with PFGBest Research in Chicago. "Oil prices were not able to stay above $100 a barrel last week, which means retail prices should continue to fall," Flynn said.

Meanwhile, the environmental advocacy group Environment California decided Monday to let people know just how much they could save this holiday weekend if every motorist had a car that met the ambitious fuel economy standard of 54.5 miles per gallon proposed by the Obama administration.

Sean Carroll, a federal field associate for the group, said Californians would save $34 million collectively over the four-day weekend. Nationally, the savings would amount to $260 million, Carroll said.

"The savings work out to about $17 per family, which means they could bring four more pumpkin pies to the holiday dinner," said Carroll, who added, "Americans ought to be able to drive over the river and through the woods to grandma's house without having to stop for gas."

ALSO:

Fuel economy ... smaller is better

Gas prices may hit new highs in 2012

Bumpy road to new fuel economy standard

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Motorists refuel at a Chevron station in Berkeley. Retail gas prices in the U.S. are at historic highs for the week leading up to the long Thanksgiving weekend. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

Prices for Thanksgiving travel and feast going up

Reutersturkey

If you plan on traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, the cost of your trip is likely to be higher than last year, and the financial pain could strike almost every aspect of your vacation. Even the cost of the turkey dinner.

The average airfare for travel to the top 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for Nov. 23 to Nov. 27 has jumped 11% over last year, according to an analysis by Orbitz, one of the nation’s busiest travel websites. That means the average round-trip ticket for Thanksgiving rose to $373 from about $340.

Flights to New York for the holiday will rise the most, jumping 20% over last year, with an average round-trip price of $342, according to Orbitz. Round-trip flights to Los Angeles will increase 12% to $429, according to the travel website.

Meanwhile, the average hotel rate for the nation’s top 25 destinations for Nov. 24 to Nov. 28 is expected to rise nearly 5% to $126.35 a night, according to a report by Travelclick, a New York company that provides e-commerce products and services to the hotel industry.

New York has the highest average hotel rates, $205.99 per night, an increase of 3.7% over last year, according to Travelclick. In Los Angeles, the average hotel rate will go up 4.6% to $112.42 a night.

You won’t escape the higher prices by driving: Gas prices reached the highest levels ever in the week prior to Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area was $3.82 a gallon last week,  66 cents higher than the same time last year.

And with food prices on the rise, the American Farm Bureau Federation is predicting that the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. will rise 13% this year, the biggest increase in two decades.

RELATED:

Thanksgiving travel in Southern California expected to rise

Ten years later, TSA screening still frustrates air travelers

Southern Californians to spend less on holiday travel, poll says

-- Hugo Martin

Photo credit: Reuters

Exports help drive record U.S. refinery production

Getprev
The amount of gasoline and other fuels produced by U.S. refineries reached a new record for October, compared with the same month in previous years, according to the American Petroleum Institute's (API) monthly statistical release. But a big part of that story was where some of that production was headed -- overseas.

U.S. refineries produced more than 9.4 million barrels of gasoline and more than 4.5 million barrels of distillates, such as diesel, in October. The gasoline figure represented a 4% increase and the distillate figure was a rise of 4.9% over the same month a year earlier, the API said.

The API also noted that U.S. petroleum exports to other countries soared by 37.6%, to more than 3.4 million barrels in October compared with the same month in 2010.

Exports of refined fuels, particularly diesel, have reached record levels, according to separate statistics compiled by the U.S. Energy Department, reaching more than 95 million barrels in August. That's an increase of more than 107% since August of 2007.

This comes at a time when gasoline prices in the U.S. are at their highest levels ever for this week in November. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. Friday, for example, is $3.38, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report or 28.5 cents a gallon higher than the old record set in 2007.

In California, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline Friday, is $3.79 or 39.6 cents a gallon above the old mark, also set in 2007.

U.S. diesel prices are also worse than ever for this time of year. Nationally, the average price of a gallon of diesel Friday is $3.99, according to the AAA, or 58.6 cents above the old record set five years ago. In California, the average price for a gallon of diesel is $4.31 or 69.3 cents above the old mark set in 2007.

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Tour the L.A. car show

The green car of the year award goes to...

U.S. seeks to double fuel efficiency by 2025

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: The sprawling Conoco-Phillips oil refinery in Wilmington. The nation's refineries produced a record amount of fuel in October compared with the same month in previous years. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Thanksgiving travel in Southern California expected to rise

TrafficLA

Expect the roads to be more crowded than usual during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

That's because an estimated 3.3 million Southern Californians plan to travel for the holiday, a 4.1% increase over last year, according to a forecast released Friday by the Auto Club of Southern California.

And despite higher fuel costs over last Thanksgiving, 86%, or 2.8 million of those travelers, will travel by car, also a 4.1% increase over last year. Another 386,000 will fly, a 1.9% increase, according to the Auto Club forecast.

The projected increase will mark the first holiday of the year with a growth in travelers. Travel experts attribute the rise to pent-up demand.

“Those who have put off vacations all year, or maybe for a couple of years, are realizing they need to get away and they are finding ways to do it even on a tight budget,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.82 per gallon, which is 66 cents higher than last year, according to the Auto Club.
The most popular destinations among Southern Californians during the holiday are expected to be Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and Disneyland, the Auto Club said.
RELATED:

Ten years later, TSA screening still frustrates air travelers

Southern Californians to spend less on holiday travel, poll says

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: A typical traffic jam in Southern California. Roadways could be especially crowded over Thanksgiving weekend as holiday travel is expected to rise. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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