ST. LOUIS — Amid the gloom of the economic meltdown, there is at least one bit of good news: Gasoline prices in Missouri and around the country are dropping to levels that haven't been seen in about a year.
Missouri's average price of a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.81 on Monday, down 73 cents from just a month ago.
ST. LOUIS — Prices for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline for selected markets around Missouri, according to AAA Auto Club' survey:
COLUMBIA: $2.92, down from $3.52 last month, up from $2.60 last year.
KANSAS CITY: $2.70, down from $3.47 last month, up from $2.50 last year.
SPRINGFIELD: $2.56, down from $3.43 last month, up from $2.50 last year.
ST. JOSEPH: $2.69, down from $3.53 last month, up from $2.56 last year.
ST. LOUIS: $3, down from $3.66 last month, up from $2.50 last year.
STATEWIDE: $2.81, down from $3.54 last month, up from $2.55 last year.
NOTE: Missouri's highest-ever average daily price for regular unleaded was $3.95 on July 16.
Prices for a gallon of diesel fuel, according to AAA:
COLUMBIA: $3.68, down from $3.94 last month, up from $2.97 last year.
KANSAS CITY: $3.64, down from $3.91 last month, up from $3.01 last year.
SPRINGFIELD: $3.66, down from $3.87 last month, up from $2.99 last year.
ST. JOSEPH: $3.67, down from $3.96 last month, up from $2.98 last year.
ST. LOUIS: $3.65, down from $3.96 last month, up from $2.93 last year.
STATEWIDE: $3.66, down from $3.94 last month, up from $2.98 last year.
NOTE: Missouri's highest-ever average daily price for diesel was $4.69 on July 17.
A year ago, the statewide average was $2.55 per gallon, and now some markets are approaching that level. Columbia's average price was $2.89 on Monday. It was $2.52 in Springfield, $2.69 in St. Joseph and $2.70 in Kansas City.
St. Louis has the highest average price in Missouri — $3 per gallon — but it is down more than a dime over the past few days.
Missouri has the second-lowest gas prices in the nation, after Oklahoma, at $2.74 a gallon. Kansas' price is third-lowest at $2.82. The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.21, down 52 cents from a month ago.
Experts say the pump price is the result of declining crude oil and wholesale gas prices. AAA Auto Club of Missouri's Mike Right said crude oil that peaked at $150 per barrel in July — when gas in Missouri sold for $3.95 — is now selling for around $80 per barrel. Wholesale gas prices that reached above $3 per gallon in July are now below $2 per gallon.
Right said vehicle miles traveled nationally are down 3 percent so far this year.
"Supplies are strong and demand is weak," Right said. "I think the overall economic situation has raised concerns about what will happen with energy demand in the future. So we're enjoying some fairly good times (for gas prices) right now."
Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association in Jefferson City, agrees with Right that prices should remain stable or even fall further through the rest of 2008.
"That assumes no hurricanes, no Mideast tension, no supply or distribution problems," he said.
Gasoline prices vary around Missouri for several reasons, just as home prices vary from one market to the next, Leone said. St. Louis is unique because the region uses reformulated gasoline as part of the effort to reduce air pollution. Sometimes, that reformulated gas is cheaper; sometimes, like now, it's more expensive.
Leone said up to 95 percent of the price at the pump is out of the hands of the local gas station or convenience store owner — it's determined by the cost of crude oil, the cost of refining, and state and federal taxes. He said stations typically make the same margin whether gas is selling for $2.50 or $3.50.
"The good news is that at $2.50 consumers have more to spend on other goods in the store," Leone said.
And, they're in a better mood.
"Sure," Leone said. "It's one of the few pieces of good economic news we're getting right now."