Gas prices and irresponsible reporting

Friday, April 28, 2006

There's been much ado about gas prices lately. I've seen a lot of irresponsible (or just plain ignorant) reporting on the matter. Headlines like "Chevron Earnings Soar 49 Percent to $4B" and "Exxon Mobil 1Q Profit Up 7 Pct. to $8.4B" provides very little context, and if you actually read the report, you'll notice a lot of dollar figures. I have not seen (or heard on the news) a single non-financial report of gas industry profit that even mentions margin. I might be picking on AP a little here, because both my examples were AP, but they are one of the most read news sources, so they have a greater responsibility to get things right. Anyway, the whole thing reminds me of deficit headlines that don't compare deficit as a percentage of GDP.

This post is about bad reporting, but I'll mention that my opinion on the gas thing is that gas is a commodity and that as such, the oil companies are price takers, not price makers, and so they have very little control over these things. An 11% (Chevron)/16% (ExxonMobil) operating margin is pretty-freaking far from "windfall profits", and appears in line with other commodity industries like steel.

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