NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Do Gasoline Prices Respond Asymmetrically to Crude Oil Price Changes?

Severin Borenstein, A. Colin Cameron

NBER Working Paper No. 4138
Issued in August 1992
NBER Program(s):   IO

Our empirical investigation confirms the common belief that retail gasoline prices react more quickly to increases in crude oil prices than to decreases. Nearly all of the response to a crude oil price increase shows up in the pump price within 4 weeks, while decreases are passed along gradually over 8 weeks. The asymmetry could indicate market power of some producers or distributors, or it could result from inventory adjustment costs. By analyzing price transmission at different points in the distribution chain we investigate these theories. We find that some asymmetry occurs at the level of the competitive spot market for gasoline, perhaps reflecting inventory costs. Wholesale gasoline prices, however, exhibit no asymmetry in responding to crude oil price changes, indicating that refiners who set wholesale prices are not the source of the asymmetry. The most significant asymmetry appears in the response of retail prices to wholesale price changes. We argue that this probably reflects short run market power among retail gasoline sellers.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4138

Published: Quarterly Journal of Economics, February 1997, vol.112, no.1, pp.305-339. citation courtesy of

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