Gas prices fluctuate during holidays

AIBING GUO/Miner
The price for unleaded gas stood at $2.18 and diesel at $2.37 at this Stockton Hill Road gas station on Sunday.

AIBING GUO/Miner The price for unleaded gas stood at $2.18 and diesel at $2.37 at this Stockton Hill Road gas station on Sunday.

KINGMAN ­ Gasoline prices might go down a little bit after the holiday season, though it's hard to predict the long-term trend, local gasoline retailers suggested.

The price for unleaded gasoline stood at $2.19 per gallon at Kmart, $2.13 at Arco, $2.21 at Safeway and $2.39 at Chevron at noon on Sunday.

Al Anbardan, owner of 93 USA Fuel station at 1861 Chicago Avenue, said gasoline prices always fluctuate following holiday travels.

"When holidays draw close, gasoline prices always go up, but it will return to a lower level when people return to work," he said.

On Dec. 28, the unleaded gasoline price at his station was $2.13 per gallon, and the price jumped to $2.18 as of Sunday.

Across the street, the price record from Safeway gasoline station suggested the same trend. The unleaded gasoline price at Safeway was $2.15 on Dec. 27, but soared to $2.21 by noon on Sunday.

As a chain fuel station controlled by big corporations, Safeway has to change its price tags tightly following orders from Phoenix, where its regional headquarters are located, said Janice Lynch, a fuel attendant. "They will either call or send a fax (to) let us know when to change the price," she said.

Lynch started to work at the fuel station in March and thought the business there was very good in 2005. "I heard people (working) here say our business was very good this year, and (the gasoline station) made a lot more money than last year," she said.

Other local chain gasoline stations the Miner contacted during the weekend refused to talk about either gasoline prices or profits unless their company headquarters ask them to do so.

"We just do whatever they ask us to do, (and) we know nothing about the price," an employee at a local gasoline station said, refusing to give her name and position.

Gasoline prices broke records again and again in this country in 2005. In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which knocked out refineries in the Gulf Coast, the cost of crude oil peaked in late August at more than $70 a barrel and the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline broke the $3 mark in some areas.

At the same time, oil companies collected record high profits ­ Exxon Mobil turned a third quarter profit of $10 billion, and other big-name oil companies also posted record profits.

In Arizona, the price of gasoline was at about $1.78 a gallon in early January last year, and it then rocketed to more than $3 a gallon in mid-September, and dropped down to $2.20 by the year's end, according to figures from the www.arizonagasprices.com, a professional Web site focusing on gas information in Arizona.

The gasoline price is comprised mainly of four parts, including crude oil, refining and distribution, taxes and retail margins, according to the analysis of AAA, a membership travel service organization which monitors gas and road information across the country.

For instance, if unleaded gasoline price lands at $2.225 a gallon, 62.3 percent or $1.387 goes to the cost of crude oil, 14.5 percent or 0.324 goes to refining and distribution, 16.8 percent or 0.374 goes to taxes and 6.3 percent or 0.141 goes to local retailers. The higher the retail price, the bigger the profit margin for retailers.

Though it is true for most local chain gasoline stations, the profit margin might not be that high for private retailers, such as Al Anbardan's gas station.

"We have to set our price at a very low level in order to compete with big names," Anbardan said.

He set unleaded gasoline at $2.18, a price lower than most chain fuel stations. For customers who prefer to use their credit cards when pumping gasoline, fuel stations usually have to pay a 2 percent service charge to credit card companies.

That could also explain why Arco, which has the lowest gasoline price in town at $2.13 a gallon, only accepts cash or debit cards.

Anbardan is constantly in contact with several big-name petroleum companies, and buys gasoline from the one that charges less. By buying a little cheaper, he can then sell at a lower price. "The quality is almost the same, but the price may vary from company to company," he said.

As for customers who want to buy gasoline at a relatively lower price, Anbardan suggested Tuesday and Wednesday should be the dates for a better deal.

"It's always like this ­ price is up over the weekend, and down a little in mid-week," he said.

The nationwide high gasoline prices do not stop people from traveling. A AAA survey estimates about 37.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday season. That is up slightly from 37 million a year ago.

Hank Orofino, an IT engineer from Flower Mound, Texas, is one of them. He drove his car to California to see his friends, and stopped by a Kingman gas station while returning.

"The high (fuel) price does hurt long distance travelers, like me," he said.

Driving all the way from Texas to California, he thought gasoline prices were high everywhere. "At one town the price is $2.20 and the other is about the $2.21," he said. "But after a while you will realize the two towns are in different states."

He had planned to visit California in the summer, but the high price postponed his trip. But he finally made the trip in the winter, anyway. "Even though the price is high, you've got to do what you've got to do," he said.

It's also true for local beverage businessman John Davis, who stopped to pump gasoline at Safeway late Sunday morning before heading to a mountain motorcycle trail. He believed the high gasoline price is obviously unreasonable, but "there is nothing you can really do to change it."

Local high school teacher, Rodney Cody, on the other hand, thought someone should be responsible for the high gasoline price.

"Someone from government should investigate those gasoline companies, see if they have manipulated the price," he said.

In the summer when the gasoline price was at more than $3 a gallon, Cody cancelled almost all his family's traveling plans.

Right now, even when gasoline price has dropped to $2.20, Cody still thought there should be room for further price cuts. "The price is somewhat acceptable, but it's still much higher than we used to pay. The government must do something about it," he said.