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Gas Prices Slide, but Not in L.A.

Region sees a 6.3-cent jump as the cost of crude oil falls, and the national average gas price dips.

March 22, 2003|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

The price of crude oil and wholesale gasoline continued their slide Friday, but retail gasoline prices in the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area rose an average of 6.3 cents to $2.165 a gallon, according to a new survey from the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Nationwide, however, the AAA said average regular gas prices dropped by a half-cent, to $1.709 a gallon.

The statewide average rose by just one-tenth of one cent, to $2.177.

The national drop came as the cost of crude oil -- the biggest component in setting gas prices -- fell to $26.91 a barrel, down $1.21 in New York commodities trading Friday. Crude oil prices have fallen 24% this week, for the sharpest drop since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

In California, the cost of regular gasoline on the wholesale spot market dipped sharply to $1.05 a gallon from $1.31, according to the Oil Price Information Service.

Just 10 days ago, gasoline was trading at $1.54 a gallon on the spot market, which represents the price buyers pay for same-day delivery.

Analysts said the surveys show that California's gas prices are leveling off after nearly two months of increases, but they noted that gasoline prices tend to rise fast and fall slowly. During previous price hikes, decreases in the price of crude oil often took several weeks to reach local gas stations.

That means motorists could see additional increases before the prices start to drop, especially in Southern California.

Gasoline supplies in the region are tighter than in other parts of the state because of high demand. And the situation has been worsened by the scheduled overhaul and partial shutdown of a major BP refinery in Carson.

"We're always told that sometimes retailers get caught with losses when prices go up quickly, and so on the downside, they tend to lag a bit to try to catch up," said Jeff Spring, spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "I can't say that it's right or fair, that's just the way it is."

The 6.3-cent rise in the L.A.-Long Beach area compares with a 7.7-cent increase the week before, and a 8.4-cent boost for the week ended March 7.

The Auto Club also surveyed San Diego, where prices also rose 6.3 cents, to $2.211 a gallon, and the Santa Barbara area, where gasoline averaged $2.204 a gallon, up 7.3 cents.

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