Beyond the Headlines

The ups and downs of predicting gas prices

Posted: Jan 9, 2012 10:30 AM ET Last Updated: Jan 9, 2012 10:30 AM ET
Sometimes we get it wrong.

Those are five words journalists hate to have to say. After all, "get it right" is drilled into us from our first hour in journalism school.

But, last week we got our gas prediction wrong. We thought the price would go up 1 cent a litre. It actually went up 2.6 cents.

We started our weekly gas predictions when the province began regulating the price. We wanted to help you save a few bucks by either filling up on Thursday night, or if we think the price will drop, waiting until Friday. We have to guess because the UARB, the agency that regulates gas prices in Nova Scotia, doesn't say a word about what it's thinking until it posts the new price at 12:01am every Friday.

But it's an educated guess.

Our predictions are done by our colleague Robert Jones, aka the Gas Guru, in Saint John. Robert uses a complicated formula (at least for me), that involves tracking the last five days of oil pricing on the New York market and then trying to figure out how the folks over at the UARB will interpret that trend.

(If math and formulas don't make your head hurt check out my interview with Robert here)

Robert Jones Interview by briancbc

So, are our predictions any better than throwing a dart at the gas price board? Well, after last week, I went back to check our record over the past three months.

In the 13 weeks, between October 1, 2011 - December 31, 2011 we were either dead-on, or within 1 cent, 11 times. More importantly, we had the trend right every time. If we said it was going up, it went up, and vice versa.

We only had it wrong twice. On November 11, 2011, we predicted no change. The price went up 2 cents a litre. On December 9th, following another no change prediction, it went up 2.5 cents a litre.

Not a bad record.

It's probably best to think of our gas price predictions much the same way you view the weather forecast. If Peter Coade says it's going to snow tomorrow, you can pretty much bet we'll see snow. You really don't know whether you'll be shoveling 10 cm or 15 cm, until it actually happens.

Still, you're going to need your shovel.

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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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