The average price for regular gasoline at U.S. filling stations increased 11.49 cents to $3.9297 a gallon, according to Lundberg Survey Inc.
The price jump covers the two-week period ended March 23 and is based on the Camarillo, California-based company’s survey of about 2,500 stations. The price is almost 36 cents higher than a year earlier, when the average was $3.5726, the survey showed.
“There were refinery glitches that caused some wholesale markets to jump,” Trilby Lundberg, the president of Lundberg Survey, said in a telephone interview. Those issues are being resolved and margins of refiners and retailers and have been normalizing, she said.
With the U.S. jobs market and manufacturing showing improvement, higher pump prices before the peak summer driving season have become an issue in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable reiterated March 23 that Britain is in talks with the Obama administration and with other nations about a coordinated release of strategic oil reserves to bring down prices.
The Obama administration has said it’s monitoring prices in 360 U.S. cities to guard against fraud or price manipulation. The president announced on March 22 in Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for New York futures contracts, that he has ordered an expedited review of an oil pipeline project that would connect Cushing to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s office labeled the president’s trip a “tour de farce,” and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Obama’s move was more about his poll numbers than oil.
Fuel prices rose as West Texas Intermediate crude in New York has gained 8.1 percent this year and Brent oil in London has surged 16 percent. The front-month crude contract on the Nymex fell 53 cents to $106.81 a barrel in the two weeks ended March 23, while Brent oil in London declined 85 cents to $125.13.
Gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 1.6 percent to $3.3852 a gallon in the two weeks ended March 23. That’s the highest settlement since April 29, when prices reached $3.4648, the highest closing price of 2011.
Futures have climbed 26 percent this year, making gasoline the best performer in the Standard & Poor’s GSCI index of 24 commodities. Prices have surged on speculation that refinery closings will tighten supplies and as crude rose on concern that tensions with Iran over its nuclear program would reduce oil supplies.
U.S. gasoline stockpiles fell 1.21 million barrels to a 10- week low of 226.9 million in the week ended March 16, according to Energy Department data. Gasoline demand over the prior four weeks was 7.8 percent below a year earlier.
Retail demand this year through March 16 was 5.6 percent lower than the same period in 2011, according to MasterCard (MA) Inc.’s SpendingPulse report on March 20. That’s the biggest decline for this time of the year in SpendingPulse records, dating back to 2004.
“If crude oil prices don’t spike right now there’s a very good chance that retail prices may peak,” Lundberg said. “It would take another crude oil spike to send retail prices up further.”
Oil may decrease next week after U.S. fuel consumption declined and Saudi Arabia said it can increase output immediately, a Bloomberg News survey showed.
Seventeen of 30 analysts, or 57 percent, forecast oil will fall through March 30. Four respondents, or 13 percent, predicted prices will rise and nine estimated there will be little change. Last week, 53 percent expected a decline.
The highest price in the lower 48 U.S. states among the cities surveyed was in Chicago where the average was $4.56 a gallon Lundberg said. The lowest price was in Tulsa, where customers paid an average of $3.58 a gallon.
On Long Island, regular gasoline increased to $4.05 a gallon, according to Lundberg. Los Angeles-area retail stations averaged $4.34.
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