09 July 2009

The Great NL Gasoline Price Fixing Scheme: Summer 2009 edition

Gasoline prices in Newfoundland and Labrador are set by the provincial government.

While gasoline prices across North America have been dropping recently, the government’s price fixing mechanism hasn’t kept pace.

ch.gaschart To give an idea of the consequences, take a look at this chart.  It shows the average Canadian price per litre (blue) and the average price in Newfoundland (red).

Look closely at that blue line which has been on a steady downward trend since June 20.  The average stands at $1.01 per litre on July 9, down from  $1.06 at peak.

In Newfoundland, the number has pretty much been a steady average above the current average $1.12 per litre since June 20. There were even a couple of upticks in the Newfoundland number during the period.  The current average prices is less than two cents down from the peak.

If none of the previous arguments against government-controlled prices worked, then surely this chart should cause you to sit up and wonder why gas in this province is 11 cents per litre above the Canadian average. 

There’s obviously something wrong.

Seriously wrong.

There have been two big winners from gas price regulation in Newfoundland and Labrador and neither of them is the average consumer.

Gasoline retailers have been gifted with steady and predictable profit margins. They buy at market prices and sell at the government price.  As you can see from the charts below, that can be pretty sweet.

The provincial government also wins.  Its taxes are buried in the price and when the price stays high based on the vagaries of some contrived formula, its tax haul stays nice and fat.

Not surprisingly, there aren’t any politicians calling for the elimination of gas price fixing by the provincial government. In fact, one of the guys who pushed hardest for this scheme – St. John’s mayor Dennis O’Keefe – has been conspicuously silent about the whole issue.

And it’s not like this is a new phenomenon.

ch2.gaschart Over the past four years not only have prices been substantially above the Canadian average, there are too many occasions where the local prices have bucked the downward trend.  And on some of the upward trends the local price jumps have been disproportionately highly compared to the national average.

Just for good measure, let’s look at the trending over six years.



More of the same.

The only astonishing thing in this has been the dead silence from consumers, let alone from the various self-appointed consumer advocates out there, one of whom has managed to find himself a sweet job leading a Great Sittee.

If you didn’t think there was a reason to scrap the government-dictated gasoline price scheme in this province, surely the events this week and this evidence should make you sit up and take notice of what is a fairly obvious problem.