Valero 2022 Profits Skyrocket But Gas Pump Gouging In CA Moderates As CA Threatens Refiner Penalty
Consumer Watchdog, by Liza Tucker, 01/26/2023
Los Angeles, CA—Valero raked in $11.5 billion in 2022 profits, beating its $930 million for the previous year by a dozen times. However, Governor Newsom’s call for a special session in October to deal with price gouging appears to be having an impact on gouging in California as California-reported refinery margins were lower than any other region for the first time this year and in line with historic margins.
“Valero reported profits per gallon of gasoline in California during the fourth quarter at below 50 cents, a red line marker for price gouging,” said Consumer Watchdog Liza Tucker. “It reported per gallon profits off California gas at 36 cents, a reasonable profit in line with what the refiner earned here for the last 20 years. Meanwhile margins elsewhere remained high.
“The threat of a legislative penalty on gasoline price gouging that Governor Newsom called for appears to be reining in gas prices in California already,” said Tucker. “Clearly, California lawmakers should enact that penalty.”
Consumer Watchdog has called for 50 cents as a demarcation line on profits per gallon above which refiners will pay a penalty. SBX 1 2, introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) will set a penalty on California refiners when gas prices and the profits refiners make per gallon off consumers become abnormally high. The legislature has yet to set a profit level for the penalty.
Five refiners control California’s gasoline market by making 97% of the state’s gasoline. They usually report higher profit margins per gallon of gasoline for the US West Coast than any other region in which they operate, said Tucker. Valero’s 4th quarter profits were the first indication the price gouging penalty has impacted the companies’ policies. In addition, November and December gasoline prices in California were more in line with the typical spread between average US and California prices of a little more than a dollar.
“Just raising the price gouging penalty has significantly curbed Valero’s profit taking in California and made gasoline more affordable for Californians and in particular the most vulnerable in the state who were paying as much as 20% of their after-tax income for gasoline,” said Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog. “Imagine how much Californians will save once a penalty is enacted.”
Valero tripled its fourth quarter profits to $3.1 billion from $1 billion. But Valero reported West Coast refining margins per barrel—the difference between what crude oil costs a refiner compared to the wholesale charge for the finished product—that were the lowest among its regions of operation. Since Valero only has Western refineries in California, the margins are California-specific.
Valero reported a margin of $15.43 for the West Coast, compared to $18.88 for the US Mid-Continent, $22.68 for the Gulf Coast, and $29.66 for the North Atlantic. Consumer Watchdog divides margin per barrel numbers to arrive at a per gallon profit. That translated into a profit of 36 cents per gallon in California, 44 cents in the US Mid-Continent region, 54 cents on the Gulf Coast, and 70 cents in the North Atlantic.
In contrast, Valero bagged price gouging profits per gallon in the second and third quarters of 2022. In the second quarter of 2022, Valero reported an 83 cent per gallon profit at the pump and, in the third quarter, a 60 cent per gallon profit in the third quarter, according to Consumer Watchdog research. See refiner profit per gallon chart here.
According to Gary Simmons, Valero’s executive vice president, profits were buoyed by a continued tight market for crude. Simmons said that bad weather also interfered with the restocking that normally occurs at this time of the year. “That sets up the year nicely from the refinery margin perspective,” he said.
As it was, California’s big five oil refiners posted overall profits of $67.6 billion in the first nine months of 2022 – nearly quadruple the profits recorded for the same period in 2021. Chevron reports its fourth quarter and annual earnings tomorrow. It controls 30% of California’s gasoline market.