Small Data: Petrol prices are rising again

Graph showing oil vs petrol prices since 2011

Petrol prices have started rising again, hitting an average price of 110 pence per litre earlier this week, writes Anthony Reuben.

It feels as if it has recovered pretty quickly. The average price of a litre of unleaded in the UK was 106p at the beginning of February and people were discussing whether the price could dip below a pound a litre.

But to be fair, over that same period the price of a barrel of oil has risen by about $10 a barrel to about $60 a barrel.

The price of diesel has gone up from 113p per litre at the beginning of last month to 117p.

The price of oil is considerably more volatile than the price of petrol, as the graph above shows.

That is especially the case in the UK, where the price of oil makes up a relatively small proportion of the petrol price.

The chancellor gets just under 58p in fuel duty for every litre of petrol sold, and there is 20% VAT on top of that.

So when you look at oil and petrol prices, it looks as if the petrol price has been responding in February to oil price rises during that time.

But Luke Bosdet from the AA says that the oil price is not the one to follow - he reckons the important figure to check is the wholesale price of petrol.

The trouble is, that's not a very easy figure to get hold of. One of the few public places you can see it is in the second graph on page four of the European Commission's weekly oil bulletin.

It's not a very clear graph, but it looks as if the wholesale price has been rising since the middle of January, and the four pence rise in the average petrol price is only about half of the increase implied by the wholesale rises since then.

And Bosdet says it's a problem for petrol stations because motorists know what is going on with oil prices but not wholesale petrol prices.

"There isn't the transparency in wholesale prices so the retailers can't protect themselves," he says.

Figures released by HM Revenue and Customs suggest that even January's lower prices did not encourage people to drive more.

Its hydrocarbons oils duties report says that the 1.39bn litres of petrol sold in the UK in January was the third lowest volume on record.

But the question, as petrol prices begin to rise, is whether they have risen faster in response to the rising oil price than they fell when the oil price was falling.

It seems pretty clear that they did, because last summer it took about a 20% fall in the oil price before there was any significant decline in the petrol price.

But if you look on the wholesale petrol price chart, that may be because the falling oil price was not being fully reflected in the wholesale price.


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