“Towards October we should start to see some relief at the pump based on the rollover to the winter grade,” said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group Inc. in Villanova, Pennsylvania. Retail prices could fall 20 cents to between $3.50 and $3.60 a gallon, Schork said.
Prices ended last year at $3.278 a gallon, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, the nation’s largest motoring organization
In a Bloomberg National Poll of 1,007 respondents conducted Sept. 21-24, 46 percent said Romney would do a better job controlling gasoline prices, compared with 39 percent for Obama.
Falling prices may remove gasoline as an issue for voters in the presidential election, said Andrew Lebow, senior vice president for energy at Jefferies Bache LLC in New York.
“Are they going to make their decision based on gasoline prices?” said Lebow. “Not at $3.70 or $3.80. Maybe if they’re above $4, they might be another factor to sway undecided voters.”
Prices rose as the largest refineries in Canada and Europe underwent maintenance, along with another plant in Wales that ships gasoline to the U.S. In the Mid-Atlantic area, which includes New York Harbor, the delivery point for Nymex futures, inventories are at the lowest point since the Energy Department began releasing weekly data in 1990.
Traders were so eager to get the scarce supply that they pushed the October contract to 42.19 cents above November’s on Sept. 28. The so-called backwardation, or premium of the front contract to the next one, was the highest since gasoline began trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 1986.
Companies booked 16 tankers for the two weeks to Oct. 10, and 11 more probably will be hired, according to the median estimate in a survey of eight shipbrokers and traders Sept. 26. That’s seven vessels more than the previous week’s total and the most shipments since Sept. 12, prior surveys showed.
While Americans purchased 3.8 percent less gasoline this year and the U.S. met 81 percent of its energy needs in 2011, the most since 1992, refinery closures have left East Coast stockpiles of motor fuel at a four-year low, Energy Department data shows today.
“The market was already on edge because of tight supply, but some wholesalers put off buying hoping supplies would appear,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
New York Harbor was left more susceptible to shortages after Hovensa LLC shut its St. Croix refinery in February. The plant supplied 95,000 barrels a day of gasoline to the East Coast in 2011, 3 percent of consumption. Sunoco Inc. shut the Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, facility in December. Delta Air Lines Inc. expects to return the Trainer plant to full production this week, a year after it was idled by ConocoPhillips.
“The shutdown of Hovensa, Marcus Hook and Trainer have led to seasonally higher prices, which longer term will be mitigated by higher product imports and higher product pipeline transfers from the Midwest and Gulf Coasts,” said Hamza Khan, an analyst at Schork Group.