Gas prices get a jump on spring

Lamar Lancaster was bundled up while pumping gas in Paulsboro on brutally cold day. Low inventories have sent East Coast prices higher.
Lamar Lancaster was bundled up while pumping gas in Paulsboro on brutally cold day. Low inventories have sent East Coast prices higher. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 02, 2013

NEW YORK - Gasoline prices are getting an early start on their annual spring march higher.

The average U.S. retail price rose 13 cents over the last two weeks to $3.42 per gallon, and within a few days it will likely set a record for this time of year.

Gas on Thursday averaged $3.54 a gallon in Southeastern Pennsylvania and $3.39 in South Jersey, the AAA auto club said. Those figures are up 8 cents and 10 cents, respectively, in the last week.

The culprits: rising crude oil prices, slowing output at refineries that are undergoing maintenance, and low supplies of gasoline.

These are the kinds of thing that push gasoline prices higher every spring after what is normally a lull in gasoline prices in the late fall and early winter. But a heavy schedule of January maintenance at West Coast refineries has led to sharply higher prices there. Meanwhile, low inventories have pushed prices higher on the East Coast.

And rising crude oil prices have pushed prices higher throughout the country.

"I'm not surprised at what I'm seeing, but I am surprised it's coming early," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

Hopes of stronger economic growth in the United States and abroad helped push the U.S. stock market to a five-year high in January and sent crude prices up. When economies expand, more gasoline and diesel and jet fuel are consumed by shippers and travelers.

Crude oil has risen 14 percent since mid-December, to $97.49 on Thursday. Brent crude, the benchmark used to price oil that most U.S. refineries use to make gasoline, is up 9 percent since then to $115.55

Analysts still don't expect prices to follow last year's steep path through March that brought them to a high of $3.94 on April 6.

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