SOME motorists have been left behind by the precipitous drop in the cost of petrol in recent days, with prices varying by more than 30 cents in some Sydney suburbs.
The average price of unleaded petrol has fallen by almost 10 cents in the past week to settle at 129.4 cents a litre yesterday, its lowest price since February.
But as rogue petrol stations continue to take on oil giants – some selling petrol at a discount of three cents a litre – others were dragging their heels in passing on the savings.
One independent station on Balaclava Road, Eastwood was advertising unleaded petrol at 158.9 cents a litre. Down the road, a Caltex station was advertising 125.9 cents a litre.
An NRMA spokesman welcomed the price savings but warned that the huge disparities in prices would linger with some retailers reluctant to pass on savings.
"We’re finally seeing petrol prices at the point where they should have been weeks ago," he said. "What we would say to motorists is there are still some places who think they can drag their heels. The message is: shop around, look at prices and avoid those places where the price is still [inflated]."
Some petrol stations were yesterday pulling the price down, selling petrol for as little as 121.8 cents a litre, well below the wholesale price of unleaded petrol in Sydney, which settled at 125 cents a litre.
The general manager of FuelTrac, Geoff Trotter, said some retailers might be sharply discounting prices to gain publicity.
"I don’t think those prices are sustainable … if you are discounting the wholesale price heavily," he said. "You do see that happening at the lower end of the price cycle but the problem is that with a market that’s falling, the cycle tends to be less predictable."
The petrol commissioner, Joe Dimasi, told the Herald that he is "very confident" of a further fall in prices in the next week, of around three cents a litre.
Mr Dimasi wrote to oil companies two weeks ago asking them to explain their prices. He said he was pleased by their performance this week.
Oil companies are facing the prospect of having to sell refined petrol for cheaper than they can buy raw oil on world markets – known as a negative refiner margin – as talk of global recession continues to dampen global demand.
According to figures from the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the regional price for unleaded petrol was $90 a barrel, compared to $96 a barrel for crude oil.
The regional benchmark for refined petrol, the Singapore Mogas, has fallen by 28 per cent since mid-October but commentators said the best prospect for further falls in petrol prices was provided by the rallying of the Australian dollar.
In the past week the dollar has increased from US61.2 cents to US68.15 cents in late trading yesterday.
"The problem over the past couple of weeks has been that the fall in crude prices has been wiped out by the falling dollar," Mr Trotter said. "Now the dollar is rallying, you might see some actual results [at the bowser]." Unleaded prices in Sydney BP, Hume Highway, Casula 121.8 cents per litre
Caltex, Balaclava Road, Eastwood 125.9 cents
Coles Express, Alison Road, Randwick 133.9 cents
Volume Plus, Waldron Street, Chester Hill 149.9 cents
Autodoc, Balaclava Road, Eastwood 158.9 cents
Average Price 129.4 cents