Miracles on the Polish fuel market

1 Mar 2019 9:29|Marcin Lipka

"For months, petrol prices in Poland were at a very high level, even though there were strong drops observed on the market. However, when wholesale prices of petrol or diesel started to rise, in the Polish detail the downward trend began, contrary to the trends in all other EU countries," writes Marcin Lipka, Conotoxia Senior Analyst.

Most drivers probably noticed that fuel prices fell in the last two weeks. This is proven by weekly data from the European Commission. Between 11 and 25 February, the average cost of a litre of unleaded petrol at Polish pumps fell from 4.79 PLN to 4.71 PLN.

Nothing would have been surprising if it had not been for the fact that at the same time the European ARA (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp) market grew by about 0.15 PLN. Prices on the Polish wholesale market also changed very similarly. Together with tax and fuel surcharge per litre of petrol (excluding VAT), a litre of this fuel cost 3.56 PLN on February 12th. In the last few days of February, it rose to the range of 3.70-3.74 PLN, i.e. the highest value in 4 months.

Poland is expensive and later strange price drops happen

On the one hand, Poles can be pleased. In Poland alone, for the last two weeks, the price of petrol has fallen, while it has risen in all the other EU Member States. On average there was a rise of less than 2 euro cents, i.e. by 0.08 PLN.

From mid-December to mid-February, retail petrol prices in the EU, excluding taxes, were significantly lower than in Poland. For 6 weeks - from the beginning of January to mid-February, Polish drivers paid on average 3 euro cents (0.13 PLN) more than the EU average. In comparison to Austria, the difference amounted to almost 5 euro cents (0.20 PLN).

Disturbances appear on the retail market, but not in the Polish wholesale market. Offer prices of Polish refineries are in line with European and world trends. The biggest disturbances occur directly at petrol stations, which are difficult to justify by any market processes, as they occur at the most surprising moments.

Non-market invisible hand

A similar situation occurred in the context of diesel. Also only in Poland prices have fallen in the last two weeks. However, diesel, just like petrol, was more expensive for Poles than the EU average from late November to mid-February. In January, the difference reached almost 5 euro cents. Where did these disturbances come from?

In Poland, there is no competition between matters in the retail market. A greater fight for customers would allow for faster price drops when petrol or diesel in the wholesaler are cheaper (this process can be seen practically only at the pumps next to supermarkets). On the other hand, the strange behaviour of the leading players in the retail market, as it is now, causes uncertainty among other fuel retailers and reinforces the tendency to maintain high prices for as long as possible.

Paraphrasing the eighteenth-century saying from Adam Smith, it can be said that there is an “invisible hand” in the retail fuel market, but it is certainly not the hand of healthy market competition.

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