Market Insider

Consumers could be paying even more for gasoline this week because of attack on Saudi facilities

Key Points
  • Gasoline prices could jump 15 to 20 cents per gallon for unleaded, as the refining sector adjusts to higher-priced oil, following attacks this weekend on Saudi oil installations.
  • The facilities may be restored soon, but one analyst says the market will now factor in a new geopolitical risk premium.
  • The national average price for unleaded gasoline rose by 3 cents to $2.59 per gallon overnight, according to AAA.
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Satellite photos show the attack damage to Saudi Aramco oil facilities

Consumers could pay an average 15 to 20 cents more per gallon for unleaded gasoline by the end of the month following the weekend attack that took half of Saudi Arabia's production offline, oil analysts said.

A big price move at some stations could come in the next 48 hours, experts said Tuesday. In the U.S., gasoline prices jumped 3 cents per gallon overnight and averaged $2.59 per gallon Tuesday, according to AAA.

"It's not going to go crazy, but I think 15 to 20 cents is going to happen before the end of the month." said Tom Kloza, head of global energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service. "It will happen very rapidly because the margins of retailers were basically good all summer, and they were sliced in half or more by what happened yesterday. If you're a public retailer, like Murphy's, Costco or BJs, you had a tough day yesterday. You literally saw 50% or more of your margins disappear."

Brent, the international benchmark, rose 15% Monday, but was trading off 5% Tuesday at just over $65 per barrel, following a Reuters report that said Saudi production could return quickly and that it was close to restoring 70% of the lost supply. Gasoline futures were higher, up 0.4% to $1.76 per gallon. If the outage in Saudi Arabia is extensive or prolonged, or there is a military conflict, the price of oil and gasoline would go higher.

"I'm not looking for $85, $90, $100 oil unless the conflict widens," Kloza said.

Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, told CNBC he expects gasoline to surpass $2.70 per gallon in the next 10 days, and Tuesday's drop in Brent does not affect his forecast.

"It's still in my range of 15 to 25 cents at the pump," he said. Even if Saudi production comes back, Brent should stay at a higher price because the success of the attack revealed vulnerability and the risk of threats is greater. "There's a new geopolitical risk premium that's pricing into the market."

Kloza said gasoline is delivered every day to some high-volume stations, and they would be first to see prices rise from wholesalers.

"Maybe we get to $2.70/$2.75. Typically this time of year from 2011 to 2014, we were paying $3.50 per gallon average," said Kloza. "Crude was over $100 a barrel for Brent. That was a four-year stretch. You had the Arab Spring, Iranian sanctions began. We had high-priced oil."

Prices should spike in some locations within the next few days. "When you have a virtual market, and wholesale is an adjustable rate … it's almost immediate that increases in the futures market translate in to what you pay for our fuel in 48 hours," he said.

The U.S. region likely to see the biggest impact from higher gasoline prices is the West Coast, where gasoline is already much higher than the national average.

"Probably more Saudi oil gets exported to the West Coast but the West Coast refiners have to compete with the Chinese and Japanese for the oil that is no longer profligate in the Pacific Ocean," Kloza said. "I think this is much more of a Pacific Ocean problem than an Atlantic Ocean problem just because there's so much more Saudi oil that goes to the fast growing markets in Asia. Don't be surprised by $4 gasoline in California."

The average price of gasoline in California is $3.64 per gallon, and the average price is already $4 in Humboldt and San Luis Obispo.

Lipow said China's imports of Saudi oil equal 1.3 million barrels per day, and Japan's are about 1.2 million barrels a day. The U.S. is importing about 500,000 bpd of Saudi oil.