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Tag Archives: Oil

How Timing and World Events Affect Price Statistics

Rising prices have certainly been in the news lately, and we have received a lot of questions about BLS price statistics. Some questions, however, are “evergreen.” Even in times of moderate price changes, BLS staff often hear that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) doesn’t reflect an individual’s experience. We address this concern and a wide range of other issues in our Questions and Answers about the CPI:

Q. Whose buying habits does the CPI reflect?

A. The CPI does not necessarily measure your own experience with price change. It is important to understand that BLS bases the market baskets and pricing procedures for the CPI-U and CPI-W populations on the experience of the relevant average household, not of any specific family or individual. For example, if you spend a larger-than-average share of your budget on medical expenses, and medical care costs are increasing more rapidly than the cost of other items in the CPI market basket, your personal rate of inflation may exceed the increase in the CPI. Conversely, if you heat your home with solar energy, and fuel prices are rising more rapidly than other items, you may experience less inflation than the general population does. A national average reflects millions of individual price experiences; it seldom mirrors a particular consumer’s experience.

Beyond the differences in individual spending habits, price statistics are affected by a variety of factors, including world events and the timing of price data collection. To explore these factors, we will look beyond the CPI to all BLS price indexes. We’ll focus on the price of oil and related items. Let’s start with a reminder of what is included in the BLS family of price indexes and look at how oil-related prices changed in March.

  • The Consumer Price Index measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.
    • The CPI for gasoline (all types) rose 18.3 percent in March and 48.0 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The CPI for energy rose 11.0 percent in March and 32.0 percent over the last 12 months.
  • The Producer Price Index (PPI) measures the average change over time in the selling prices domestic producers receive for their output.
    • The PPI for crude petroleum rose 7.2 percent in March and 62.2 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The PPI for petroleum refineries rose 17.0 percent in March and 62.1 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The PPI for fuels and lubricants retailing rose 22.7 percent in March and 40.0 percent over the last 12 months.
  • The Import and Export Price Indexes show changes in prices of nonmilitary goods and services traded between the United States and the rest of the world.
    • The Import Price Index for crude petroleum rose 15.6 percent in March and 62.0 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The Export Price Index for crude petroleum rose 19.1 percent in March. (This is a new measure, and we haven’t yet tracked it over 12 months.)

National or international events, whether started by Mother Nature or human action, affect the prices businesses and consumers pay for goods and services. We’ve seen this in the past with weather disruptions, such as hurricanes along the Gulf Coast that shut down oil drilling and refining. Current prices may be influenced by the war in Ukraine, the embargo on Russian oil, and other events around the world.

We can see the influence of these events in price changes throughout the production and distribution of oil-related goods and services. BLS estimates the changes in the prices that domestic producers receive through the PPI; this includes petroleum-related industries such as drillers and refiners and the margins on gasoline station sales. Gasoline retailers make money on the margins of their sales—the difference between how much they pay for the fuel they buy from wholesalers and the prices they receive from consumers. Margins for gas stations typically decline when oil prices increase. To learn more, see “As crude oil plunges, retail gasoline margins spike, then retreat.”

Some domestic producers import oil rather than purchase it domestically, and the Import Price Index reflects changes in prices they pay. Some domestic producers also export petroleum-related products, which is captured in Export Price Indexes. Ultimately, consumers purchase gasoline, home heating oil, and other petroleum-based products, and often producers pass price changes on to consumers. Thus, an increase in oil prices can result in higher costs at the pump, more expensive airline fares, and price increases for goods transported by trucks. The CPI reflects these higher prices consumers may face.

The price of oil and related products can change rapidly, adding to the challenges of collecting and publishing timely price statistics. Ideally, BLS would collect prices throughout the month for all goods and services in all price indexes. While that is a long-term goal, it is not simple to implement. Currently, BLS identifies the official “pricing date” for each index, as follows:

  • We collect prices for the CPI throughout the month, with each outlet (such as a gas station) assigned one of three pricing periods, which roughly correspond to the first 10 days, second 10 days, and third 10 days of the month. Once established, prices are updated each month during the same pricing period.
  • We collect prices for most items in the PPI as of the Tuesday of the week containing the thirteenth day of the month. This is the case for the petroleum-related items. (Some items in the PPI have prices collected throughout the month.)
  • We obtain import price data for petroleum from the U.S. Department of Energy. We obtain export price data for petroleum from secondary source market prices. These data represent a weighted average of imported and exported oil throughout the month.

Let’s look at the price of oil over the past few months and how the BLS pricing dates might affect the price indexes.

Daily price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude, January to March 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

The chart shows the volatility of the oil prices, particularly in March. When the February CPI was released on March 10, West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil prices had already soared from $96 per barrel on the last day of February to over $123 two days before the CPI release. While consumers were feeling the pinch at the pump, this steep rise was not reflected in the February CPI data. Similarly, both the February and March PPI price dates (February 15 and March 15) missed the large run-up in oil prices in the first week of March. The Import Price Index, Export Price Index, and CPI did include the highest prices seen in early March, however.

BLS price indexes represent averages—average selections of goods and services, average weights, and typically average time periods. Over time, these indexes provide an accurate view of price change throughout the economy. But during periods of rapidly changing world events, and corresponding rapid changes in the price of individual commodities (and oil in particular), the index pricing periods may miss unusual highs and lows.

Daily price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude, January to March 2022
DateDollars per barrel

Jan 3

$75.99

Jan 4

77.00

Jan 5

77.83

Jan 6

79.47

Jan 7

79.00

Jan 10

78.11

Jan 11

81.17

Jan 12

82.51

Jan 13

81.97

Jan 14

83.82

Jan 18

85.42

Jan 19

86.84

Jan 20

86.29

Jan 21

85.16

Jan 24

84.48

Jan 25

86.61

Jan 26

88.33

Jan 27

87.61

Jan 28

87.67

Jan 31

89.16

Feb 1

88.22

Feb 2

88.16

Feb 3

90.17

Feb 4

92.27

Feb 7

91.25

Feb 8

89.32

Feb 9

89.57

Feb 10

89.83

Feb 11

93.10

Feb 14

95.52

Feb 15

92.07

Feb 16

93.83

Feb 17

91.78

Feb 18

91.26

Feb 22

92.11

Feb 23

92.14

Feb 24

92.77

Feb 25

91.68

Feb 28

96.13

Mar 1

103.66

Mar 2

110.74

Mar 3

107.69

Mar 4

115.77

Mar 7

119.26

Mar 8

123.64

Mar 9

108.81

Mar 10

105.93

Mar 11

109.31

Mar 14

103.22

Mar 15

96.42

Mar 16

94.85

Mar 17

102.97

Mar 18

104.69

Mar 21

112.14

Mar 22

111.03

Mar 23

114.89

Mar 24

114.20

Mar 25

116.20

Mar 28

107.55

Mar 29

104.25

Mar 30

107.81

Mar 31

100.53

Measuring Employment across the Supply and Output Chain

BLS publishes employment data for every industry under the sun. If you are looking for employment in shoe stores, we have it. What about bowling alleys or laundromats? We have those too.

But what is an industry? BLS classifies industry employment according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Each industry has its own NAICS code number.

NAICS uses a production-oriented framework to group establishments into industries based on the activity in which they are primarily engaged. In other words, establishments that do similar things are classified together. The first two digits of a NAICS code correspond to an economic sector, such as construction or manufacturing. Each subsequent digit provides progressively more detail.

Let’s take the oil and gas industry as an example. If we want to know how many people are employed in that industry, we would look at four 6-digit NAICS codes within sector 21 (mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction). Specifically, we’re interested in the NAICS codes in the table below. Since the first two digits all start with 21, we can say they all belong to sector 21.

Oil and gas industry
NAICS codeTitle

211120

Crude petroleum extraction

211130

Natural gas extraction

213111

Drilling oil and gas wells

213112

Support activities for oil and gas operations

So now we should be able to get total employment in the oil and gas industry, right? Well, let’s take a look.

The 2019 average annual U.S. employment in these industries combined was about 472,000. But wait! You might think that figure is too low. While it captures people who work in extraction, well drilling, and support for oil and gas operations, what about people who work in industries related to the oil and gas industry? You have now stumbled upon one thing NAICS is not designed to do directly: capture an entire industry’s supply and output chain. But what if you are interested in employment across that industry’s supply and output chain?

Let’s continue with the oil and gas example. If you think about all of the activities in the oil and gas industry, they run the gamut from construction to transportation to retail. For example, workers build oil drilling platforms, refine the oil into gasoline and other products after extraction, operate and maintain the pipelines that carry the oil and gas products closer to the end user, and run the gas stations. With that in mind, you can group industries to capture more of the oil and gas industry’s input and output chain. Such a grouping might look like this:

Oil and gas supply and output chain
NAICS codeIndustry sectorTitle

486110

Transportation and warehousingPipeline transportation of crude oil

486210

Transportation and warehousingPipeline transportation of natural gas

486910

Transportation and warehousingPipeline transportation of refined petroleum products

486990

Transportation and warehousingAll other pipeline transportation

221210

UtilitiesNatural gas distribution

324110

ManufacturingPetroleum refineries

237120

ConstructionOil and gas pipeline and related structures construction

454310

Retail tradeFuel dealers

424710

Wholesale tradePetroleum bulk stations and terminals

424720

Wholesale tradePetroleum and petroleum products merchant wholesalers (except bulk stations and terminals)

447110

Retail tradeGasoline stations with convenience stores

447190

Retail tradeOther gasoline stations

541360

Professional and technical servicesGeophysical surveying and mapping services

By adding total employment for the oil and gas industry group and the oil and gas supply and output chain group, you get a 2019 annual average total employment for the oil and gas and related industries of just over 2 million.

Oil and gas, 2019 average employment
GroupEmployment

Oil and gas industry

471,772

Oil and gas supply and output chain

1,535,198

Total

2,006,970

As we have seen in this example, you can use BLS data to build measures of employment in sectors like those related to the oil and gas industry. If you experiment on your own, you will realize there is no official guide for creating these groupings of industry sectors. It may even be difficult to identify all the sectors or subsectors you should include.

BLS employment data by industry are very powerful, and you can use them to paint a picture of employment across an entire supply chain. When using these data, be mindful of which NAICS industry sectors are included in the definition of, say, the oil and gas supply and output chain. As we have seen in this example, two perspectives about what makes up that industry can result in a difference of more than 1.5 million workers.