What a crack spread is to refiners, the rack to retail spread is to fleet card merchants. The Rack to Retail spread is the price difference between the local posted rack average and the average retail price in that area. Retail margins are specifically influenced by this spread and they move their street prices accordingly. Stronger retail margins provide for better savings when using a fleet card priced using cost plus pricing. Typically the spread between rack to retail is thin in the first quarter and widens as warmer weather arrives. Global conflict, natural disasters, local market conditions and refinery utilizations are other factors that play a role in the widening or narrowing of the spread.
Here is a visual representation of the National Rack to Retail Spread in 2017. Please note the varying swings throughout the year:
In Q1 margins started low and although had peaks and valleys, margins rose over $.05 to $.189 cents per gallon.
The second quarter started with a sharp decline from Q1 but rebounded significantly to end Q2.
The third quarter declined from the end of Q2 but finished strong.
It is interesting to note that Q1 and Q4 ended with the spread valued at $.189
As we move forward in 2018, it will be interesting to see how the rack to retail spreads reacts to current market conditions.