Crude oil prices have been falling for some time: Gasoline prices are finally giving way

A reduced tax rate on fuel has been in force in Germany since the beginning of June.

Crude oil prices have been falling for some time: Gasoline prices are finally giving way

A reduced tax rate on fuel has been in force in Germany since the beginning of June. But whether the so-called "tank discount" contributes to a noticeable relief for consumers is controversial. ntv.de evaluates the current developments at the gas stations in graphics that are updated daily.

With the so-called "tank discount", motorists in Germany are to be relieved of the fuel price since June 1st. A temporary reduction in energy tax by the end of August will mean 35.2 cents less in taxes and duties per liter of Super E5 and E10, and the fixed reduction for diesel is 16.7 cents.

A sample calculation shows how the composition of the gas station price is shifting as a result of the temporary tax reduction. With unchanged product and market prices, procurement and manufacturing costs, the "tank discount" could actually have a positive effect on the total price.

However, the reality at the filling stations initially looked different: the prices for fuel continued to rise undeterred after the starting signal and gradually nullified the tax advantage. Only towards the end of the month - similar to the crude oil market - does an easing become apparent. ntv.de evaluates the current situation here in graphics that are updated daily.

The data is based on the officially validated nationwide average prices of the market transparency agency for fuels (MTS-K), which are published weekly by the Federal Statistical Office, as well as provisional approximate values ​​calculated by ntv.de for the average prices on days without validated data. To calculate the provisional prices, ntv.de uses the data published daily as open data by the "Tankerkönig" portal, which is approved by the MTS-K as the official consumer information service.

The graphic shows the nationwide real-time average prices and the number of filling stations in Germany where the respective fuel could be bought at the time the data was requested. The update interval is five minutes.

In the course of the day, the average prices are subject to significant fluctuations, some of which are in the double-digit cent range. The following graphic shows the development of the average price for each fuel over the course of the current day. This means that at midnight the lines start again on the far left. Typically, refueling in the morning is the most expensive. During the course of the day, average prices tend to fall again.

The long-term view shows the most important driver behind the fuel price development: With the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the costs of petrol and diesel have literally exploded.

The West wants to make itself independent of Russian gas and oil. But the discussions about a possible oil embargo, sanctions that are already in force and voluntary import and delivery stops as a result of the war are occurring at a time when the world is actually trying to recover from the Corona crisis - and when the demand for energy and fuel is huge is.

At German petrol stations, this mixed situation led to sales prices of more than 2.20 euros per liter in March. At the same time, calls for a "fuel price brake" and relief for drivers became louder.

For social and ecological reasons alone, experts warned against state intervention that promotes fuel consumption instead of providing incentives to save. Nevertheless, the FDP campaigned for just such an instrument in the form of a temporary reduction in energy tax - and thus prevailed against its government partners, the SPD and the Greens. The Bundestag and Bundesrat approved the plans as part of a large relief package.

Little has changed in the overall situation as a result. Because the demand for petrol and diesel remains high and is even boosted by the "tank discount". At the same time, the state foregoes billions in tax revenue and thus indirectly subsidizes the already increasing sales of the mineral oil industry.

Against this background, a general speed limit would have been a more appropriate measure to counteract the energy crisis and reduce dependence on Russian raw materials, argued the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, in a "Spiegel" newspaper shortly before the tax cut. Interview.

The President of the IFO Institute, Clemens Fuest, also clearly criticized the tax rebate. It sets the wrong incentives and above all "benefits people with higher incomes and higher fuel expenses," according to the economist.

The consolation for German motorists is that a tank filling without the temporary tax reduction would probably cost even more in the current situation. The IFO Institute also uses this logic in an analysis and comes to the headline-grabbing conclusion that the German "tank discount" is almost entirely passed on to customers. This is shown by a comparison with price developments in France, where there was no tax cut and where fuel prices rose almost unchecked at the beginning of June.

The assumption of the researchers is: Without the tax relief, the gas station prices in Germany would have taken a similar development. Instead, in Germany at the beginning of June, thanks to the "tank discount", it was exceptionally cheaper to fill up than in the neighboring country. However, the IFO publication does not explain exactly why France was chosen as the reference country.

But even if the corporations withhold only part of the tax rebate, this leads to a not insignificant increase in profit margins, especially for E5 and E10. This is indicated, for example, by an analysis by the Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) based on preliminary estimates, which in principle confirms the transfer rates of the IFO Institute. However, it should be noted that the comparison with France may overestimate the transmission rates in Germany, "since after June 1, not only in Germany but also in France, the difference between the net price and the price of crude oil increased significantly".

But much more important: Compared to the VAT reduction of 2020, the mineral oil companies are currently raking in significantly larger amounts than two years ago. "Despite the high percentage of transfers, this means with E5: around 4 cents/litre were retained, around twice as much as in 2020 (2 cents)", calculates the LMU economics professor Monika Schnitzer on Twitter. Two years ago, consumers only received a relief of 1 cent per liter with Super e5 - two thirds of the VAT reductions, on the other hand, were collected by the corporations.

The price maneuvers at German gas stations annoy the ADAC immensely. It is true that the sales prices for fuel on June 1st fell sharply from one day to the next. However, the automobile club points out that the price level at German petrol stations had already risen significantly weeks before the planned tax cut. The ADAC described the price per liter at the end of May as "massively excessive", even taking into account influencing factors such as the price of crude oil and the dollar exchange rate. This pricing cannot be explained by market developments alone.

The price increases criticized by the ADAC, but also by the German Economic Institute (DIW) become more visible if you ignore taxes and duties and only look at the product prices set by the manufacturers. In addition to the costs for production, transport, sales and product procurement (e.g. the price of crude oil), this also includes the profit per liter of fuel sold.

The ongoing ntv.de evaluation clearly shows that product prices had already risen immediately before the "tank discount" came into effect - and jumped again at the beginning of June, although crude oil prices initially fell again at this point. In the case of diesel, the total increase has meanwhile been up to 15 cents - which in turn almost corresponds to the state fuel discount.

It is also noticeable that fuel prices remained at a high level for a long time in June and are only falling gradually. In the meantime, however, crude oil prices have fallen significantly (e.g. the Brent variety).

Exact information about the background of this development could only be given by looking at the group calculations - which are under lock and key. An explanation for the increase in the product price would be: It was quite simply possible - because it was partially covered by the tank discount. However, it is also conceivable that the increase was already made "in preparation" for the Pentecost weekend, which is usually busy with travel.

However, a data analysis by "Zeit" has shown that the price increase for super petrol from the Wednesday before Whitsun to Whitsun Saturday was noticeably stronger this year than in all previous years since 2015. The conclusion is: "The price increase recorded this year falls (... ) is more than 20 times as high as the average of previous years. However, due to the tax rebate, demand is likely to have increased more than in other years."

When it comes to fuel prices, it has been discussed for years that corporations pass on actual and expected short-term peaks in demand and other price-driving developments directly and in some cases as a preventive measure to their customers. But when it comes to passing on falling costs, they react more hesitantly.

The Bundeskartellamt finds the current pricing on the fuel market sufficiently conspicuous to announce a detailed investigation. The reason: For months one has seen a decoupling of gas station and refinery prices from the raw materials market.

According to the supervisory authority, there are no concrete indications of illegal price fixing or market manipulation. In view of the high market concentration and price transparency in this sector, the corporations are well informed about every development along the production chain anyway. Market participants apparently have no reason to fear unexpected price pressure from old or new competitors. For this very reason, the suspicion that an oligopoly is abusing its market power in order to make excess profits is far from off the table.

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck from the Greens therefore wants to expand the powers of the Federal Cartel Office by amending the law. The supervisory authority should be able to intervene more easily in the event of suspected anti-competitive behavior to the detriment of consumers and monitor companies more strictly (more on the plans here). So far, the Cartel Office has had to prove the violations of competition law beyond any doubt before it can take action - a high hurdle that has so far reliably protected the mineral oil industry from intervention.

One problem is that the petroleum industry is reluctant to let its cards be looked at voluntarily. Outsiders can hardly understand how the prices are composed along the production chain and where most of the profits end up.

Industry representatives point to the strong dollar exchange rate, which makes it more expensive for Europeans to buy crude oil, as well as to increased manufacturing and transport costs. For example, energy is required to process crude oil into petrol and diesel - and the natural gas used for this has also become more expensive, as is well known.

The refineries can also charge higher prices due to reduced production capacities. Diesel prices are particularly affected by this, as this fuel competes with heating oil, which is similar in production, for production capacities.

It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the factors cited justify the price increases at petrol stations. Critics, for example, object that the cost arguments only apply to a limited extent if both the oil and gas supplier and the refiners are in the hands of the same company. Ultimately, at least for the industry giants, this means that costs and profits are only redistributed along the production chain - but the bottom line is a clear plus.

A data analysis by "Spiegel" came to the same conclusion: "Ultimately, the difference between the price of crude oil and the price of the gas station is decisive for the question of the profits of the petroleum industry - i.e. the margin in the entire value chain. Before the war, this was tax-adjusted at about 25 cents for diesel and 30 cents for Super E5. Now it's almost double that," the report reads. More than a third of the total increase has only occurred since May 31, i.e. after the introduction of the "tank discount" - with increases of "around eleven cents per liter of premium and twelve cents per liter of diesel".

The promised relief for consumers, on the other hand, is comparatively small. So far, the German "tank discount" in the form of the promised relief has only partially or not at all made itself felt at the pumps.

If the other framework conditions remained unchanged and the oil companies passed the price reduction through the fuel price brake on to citizens in full, the liter price for petrol (E5 and E10) would have to fall by 35.1465 cents. Of this, 29.55 cents are due to the reduced energy tax and 5.6145 cents to the reduced VAT (19 percent of 29.55 cents). In the case of diesel, it would be a total of 16.7076 cents per liter (reduction in energy tax by 14.04 cents plus a 2.6676 cent reduction in VAT).

The graphic for the three fuels shows by how many cents the nationwide average price has fallen in absolute terms since the beginning of June compared to the last price before the fuel price brake came into force. Negative values, as with diesel, mean a price increase. The vertical scale also shows what percentage of the possible tank discount was actually realised.

In the case of diesel, the effect of the "fuel price brake" has already completely evaporated after about two weeks. It has to be said that the tax benefit from the "diesel privilege" that was in force anyway was significantly lower from the start. There was a noticeable relaxation in the types of petrol - but the state "tank discount" also has a greater impact here due to the higher taxation. But: Even with the E5 and E10, the prices per liter have never fallen to the extent expected. Where the fixed relief per liter of petrol and diesel goes remains unclear.

Irrespective of the question of whether and to what extent the tax rebate is passed on to customers or withheld by the fuel manufacturers, one thing can be said: the state tax waiver cannot solve the ongoing problems on the energy market, but at best creates temporary relief. The next price shock can already be guessed - namely in September, when the "tank discount" expires and the supply situation has not eased in the meantime.

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