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Gasoline that is less than $3 a gallon has returned to the Toledo area. But how long it will stick around this time — its last visit four months ago was brief — remains to be seen.
What appears to be a neighborhood retail price war has developed in West Toledo this week, with prices dropping just below $3 per gallon for self-service regular at many stations.
While prices on Thursday were up to 40 cents per gallon higher elsewhere around metro Toledo, even the top prices are below what the local average was just a few weeks ago.
Motorists at several West Toledo filling stations during the afternoon were pleased to be paying less, if a bit skeptical about how lower prices came to be.
“I think it’s wonderful, but I think it should come down another 50 cents, and they’d still make a profit,” Robert Carnes of East Toledo said while buying $2.999 regular at the Shell at Monroe Street and Secor Road. “I think it’s the election. Hopefully I’m wrong, and it will stay down.”
Patt Church, who filled up on the opposite side of the same gas pump, said she’d have thought politics were in play, too, if she hadn’t read recently an exhaustive explanation of how gasoline gets to market.
“I’m not sure how much manipulation there really is,” she said, before adding that if prices stay lower, she might keep travel plans to visit relatives in Washington or Nashville.
The price-tracking Web site gasbuddy.com reported, as of late Thursday, a local average price of $3.158 per gallon for regular, which was 18.7 cents per gallon cheaper than a week ago and 68.8 cents per gallon cheaper than a month ago.
It’s also more than 44 cents below the national average derived from Gasbuddy spotters’ price reports, whereas a month ago Toledo gasoline was 3 cents per gallon more expensive than the national average.
April Cochrane, vice president for marketing and public affairs at AAA Northwest Ohio, cited slightly different figures from the auto club’s fuel-price survey, but the trend was the same: Toledo’s average price of $3.19 early Thursday was down 10 cents from a week ago, 50 cents from a month ago, and 40 cents below the national average.
Midwesterners are benefiting right now from the region’s distinctive price volatility, the auto club spokesman said: Prices tend to both rise faster and fall faster here than in other parts of the United States.
“It’s a great break for consumers, given that average prices have been the most expensive ever this year,” Ms. Cochrane said.
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While buying $2.989 regular at a Circle K on Tremainsville Road near Fern Drive, Swanton resident Max Wagner questioned the basis for previous higher prices, which he said had prompted him and his wife, Martha, to carpool to their jobs in Toledo instead of driving separately.
“It’s cheaper than it was, but you wonder why, why have they been so high?” he said, noting that there had been no recent reports of big drops in the crude-oil market.
Both Ms. Cochrane and Mike Evans, executive vice president for business development at Detroit-based Atlas Oil, said falling prices are driven by increasing supply at a time of year when demand is typically soft.
Regional refineries whose production declined earlier this fall for maintenance or changeover to winter fuel blends are now back online, Mr. Evans said, and relative calm in Middle East oil-producing areas has taken some of the speculation out of the commodities market for crude.
“That’s always the wild card, and right now there’s no premium in the market,” he said.
Hurricane Sandy could cause some supply problems in Northeastern markets, Mr. Evans said, but that does not pose the sort of threat to Midwestern supplies that past tropical weather systems in the Gulf of Mexico have caused.
Crude oil prices, meanwhile, have fallen in the past week, though not dramatically. A 32-cents-per-barrel rise in New York on Thursday, to $86.05, followed five straight daily declines during which the price had fallen by $6.37 a barrel.
Crude prices were well over $100 per barrel in April, when Toledo retail gasoline rose to near $4 per gallon, then fell below $80 in New York in late June, the last time some Toledo stations’ prices dipped below $3 a gallon.
Tori Turner of Sylvania Township was another person who cited the upcoming presidential election as a price-lowering factor, because “it went down the last time we had an election.” She stopped at the Speedway at Secor and Laskey roads for a 5-gallon-plus top-off.
“I don’t mind. I know it’s only going to be for a little while, so I might as well take advantage of it,” Ms. Turner said.
While dismissing presidential influence on short-term retail gasoline prices — “What can the President do? He can release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but that wouldn’t be very smart” — Mr. Evans backed up Ms. Turner’s prediction that sub-$3 gasoline probably won’t last long in the short term, because as of Thursday that price was below wholesale in the region.
In Detroit, he said, wholesale gasoline cost about $2.60 per gallon Thursday, and that was before federal and state taxes, which combined add more than 40 cents to the price of a gallon in both Ohio and Michigan.
“I would think it’s going to bounce again at some point,” Mr. Evans said.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6094.