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Sticky Prices, Inventories, and Market Power in Wholesale Gasoline Markets


  • Severin Borenstein
  • Andrea Shepard


A model with costly adjustment of production and costly inventories implies that wholesale gasoline prices will respond with a lag to crude oil cost shocks. Unlike explanations that rely upon menu costs, imperfect information, or long-term buyer/seller relationships, this model predicts that futures prices for gasoline will adjust incompletely to crude oil price shocks that occur close to the expiration date of the futures contract. We test and confirm this implication. Examining wholesale price responses in 188 gasoline markets, we also find that firms with market power adjust prices more slowly than do competitive firms, consistent with the model.

Suggested Citation

  • Severin Borenstein & Andrea Shepard, 2002. "Sticky Prices, Inventories, and Market Power in Wholesale Gasoline Markets," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 33(1), pages 116-139, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:rje:randje:v:33:y:2002:i:spring:p:116-139

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert S. Pindyck, 1994. "Inventories and the Short-Run Dynamics of Commodity Prices," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(1), pages 141-159, Spring.
    2. N. Gregory Mankiw, 1985. "Small Menu Costs and Large Business Cycles: A Macroeconomic Model of Monopoly," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(2), pages 529-538.
    3. Ball, Laurence & Mankiw, N. Gregory, 1994. "A sticky-price manifesto," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 127-151, December.
    4. Bacon, Robert W., 1991. "Rockets and feathers: the asymmetric speed of adjustment of UK retail gasoline prices to cost changes," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 211-218, July.
    5. Rotemberg, Julio J, 1982. "Sticky Prices in the United States," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(6), pages 1187-1211, December.
    6. Pindyck, Robert S, 1993. "The Present Value Model of Rational Commodity Pricing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 103(418), pages 511-530, May.
    7. Severin Borenstein & A. Colin Cameron & Richard Gilbert, 1997. "Do Gasoline Prices Respond Asymmetrically to Crude Oil Price Changes?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 305-339.
    8. Roland BĂ©nabou & Robert Gertner, 1993. "Search with Learning from Prices: Does Increased Inflationary Uncertainty Lead to Higher Markups?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 69-93.
    9. Carlton, Dennis W, 1986. "The Rigidity of Prices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 637-658, September.
    10. Carlton, Dennis W, 1991. "The Theory of Allocation and Its Implications for Marketing and Industrial Structure: Why Rationing Is Efficient," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(2), pages 231-262, October.
    11. Dahl, Carol & Sterner, Thomas, 1991. "Analysing gasoline demand elasticities: a survey," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 203-210, July.
    12. Jeffrey D. Karrenbrock, 1991. "The behavior of retail gasoline prices: symmetric or not?," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jul, pages 19-29.
    13. Fama, Eugene F & French, Kenneth R, 1987. "Commodity Futures Prices: Some Evidence on Forecast Power, Premiums,and the Theory of Storage," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60(1), pages 55-73, January.
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    JEL classification:

    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles


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