For the sixth week in a row, gasoline prices are up this week, hitting an average of $4.29 a gallon for self-serve regular in California, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
That’s nearly 26 cents higher than last week and 57 cents higher than a year ago.
Nationwide, the average was $3.29, a jump of 13 cents from the previous week and 34 cents in a year.
Oil and gas experts largely blamed continuing unrest in the Middle East, including concerns that future political or military actions against Iran’s nuclear program could cut off oil shipments from that country.
“The price of crude probably has a $20 Iranian risk premium built in,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at PFGBest Research. “If we could see some light at the end of the tunnel from that situation, we could see a big break in prices — but in the short run, we have to feel the pain.”
On Monday, oil prices slipped slightly after the Group of 20 economies warned about the “risks of higher oil prices” and said they would welcome supply commitments from oil-producing countries.
Light sweet crude for April delivery slipped $1.21 to settle at $108.56 in New York. In London, Brent crude futures were down $1.30, or 1%, to close at $124.17. But experts said that trading could quickly revert to moving higher.
“Oil and gasoline were a little bit overbought,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. “The speculative fabric of the market was a little thick.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a trend-breaker. The oil market is bipolar — after so many up days, it was due for a pullback.”
Last week, the Obama administration cautioned that it could end up drawing from the nation’s emergency oil reserve to keep the persistent high prices from slowing the fragile economic recovery.
The price hikes in gasoline have been slow and steady. Meanwhile, recent signs that the housing market and unemployment rate were improving kept consumer confidence relatively high.
Energy experts worried, however, that more gas price increases could dampen Americans’ mood.
“When prices creep up slightly, people learn to adjust their habits once the shock wears off,” Flynn said. “Things had seemed to be getting better. But if we continue on this trajectory, I have a hard time believing that optimism is going to continue.”
Gasoline demand in recent months has been running lower than last year despite unusually warm weather in many parts of the nation, Flynn said.
Without as much fuel to process, refineries pushed their maintenance schedules earlier and already were temporarily closing down instead of waiting until spring.
That pushed up prices, as did the fact that more expensive boutique fuel blends usually popular in the summertime were introduced earlier this year.
Specifically in the Los Angeles and Long Beach area, commuters are shelling out an average of $4.32 a gallon, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. In Orange County, the average is $4.31, compared with nearly $4.34 in San Francisco.
Wholesale prices for gasoline slipped a bit Monday, and that could signal a drop in retail prices. In the meantime, many Southern California drivers were peeved at the pump and took to Twitter to complain.
“How u expect me to contribute as an american with gas prices so high I can’t get to work,” Pancho Robles tweeted.
The sight of gas prices higher than $4 frustrated Twitter user Freeky zeek, who wrote: “Kill me now.”
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