Local gasoline prices are swinging up and down ever more drastically, a result of a national fuel system that is operating with a shrinking margin for error.
Jumps of 20 cents per gallon or more in a single day are becoming more common. Sixty-three times this year ,at least one U.S. metro area has seen such a change.
Not since 2008 have there been so many 20-cent changes. Last year those happened 58 times. In 2011 they happened just 21 times, and in 2010 just 7 times.
The problem is a fuel system increasingly vulnerable to short-term shocks. That’s because refiners try to keep stocks of gasoline low to save money, just as other manufacturers aim to operate on a “just-in-time” inventory schedule.