Soon 2 euros per liter of diesel? Why fuel prices are soaring again

Health, happiness… and not too expensive petrol? As the period of wishes comes to an end – more than a few days for latecomers – the price of fuel could well be part of the traditional wishes expressed between friends or family.

The curve observed since January 1 does not really encourage optimism. According to the latest figures published by the Ministry for Energy Transition, the average price of diesel rose by 15 cents in France over the first three weeks of the year, approaching the symbolic bar of €2 (precisely €1.91 per litre). This is even more marked for the SP95-E10: +23.6 cents (at €1.90).

“The illusion that prices had fallen to 1.50 euros”

A significant part of this inflation is obviously due to the end of the government rebate, which occurred during the transition from 2022 to 2023, and now replaced by a more targeted fuel allowance of €100.

“I have always said that in addition to being an environmental aberration, the various rebates introduced at the pump were an economic aberration. They have long given the illusion that prices have fallen to €1.50 per litre, when this was not the case at all. There is a clearly visible psychological factor in people’s reactions, now that the aid has disappeared”, points out Philippe Charlez, energy specialist at the Sapiens Institute.

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But the curb of the state does not explain at all. “The price of gasoline, deciphers the same, is broken down into four: the price of a barrel, the gross refining margin, the distribution margin – which is very variable from one place to another in the territory – and the taxes. »

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The expert focuses his magnifying glass on the first two positions. “The barrel of Brent averaged $100 in 2022, after peaking at $123 in June. It was down to $81 in December, and has remained in the same waters since early January. There is therefore no degradation on that side, ”notes Philippe Charlez.

Blame it on the refining margin

Final prices are instead pulled up by the increase in the refining margin, defined as the difference between the value of crude oil as it enters the refinery and the value of petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, etc.) to the output.

“We consider that this margin is ‘normal’ when it is between 30 and 40 € per tonne, asks the analyst. At the beginning of January, we were at 98 euros. And it does not stop rising: last Friday, we reached 125 €, an increase of more than 25% in three weeks! Inevitably, it is felt at the pump… ”

Philippe Charles (energy specialist at the Sapiens Institute)

Still according to Philippe Charlez, this sudden outbreak is due to two main factors. One, the imminent entry into force of the European embargo on Russian refined products – the measure will be effective from February 5, within the framework of the sanctions voted by the EU against Moscow. “We still import a lot of Russian diesel. There is therefore concern on the markets about a drop in stocks and possible supply problems. This is already creating tensions, inevitably. »

Sanctions against Russia: why it works, even if the “collapse” announced by some has not taken place (December 2022)

The second factor is technical: “While many European refineries were calibrated to distil Russian oil, switching to products from the Middle East or the USA requires adjustments that require some time, even heavy work. . In this context, the facilities cannot operate at full capacity. This distortion also has an impact on the margin,” notes the expert.

How far and how long can this push go? Philippe Charlez draws his joker: “It’s very difficult to say, there are so many elements that can play…”

Stephane Barnoin

To read. The ten commandments of the energy transition, by Philippe Charles. Published on January 19 by VA Press editions. 178 pages, 18 euro.

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