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California and the West

Gas prices jump in California, U.S.

December 19, 2006|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

Retail gasoline prices rose nationwide and jumped substantially in California over the last week, the federal government said Monday, a partial reflection of crude oil prices that have stayed above $60 a barrel for the last three weeks.

Crude oil prices, meanwhile, continued to gyrate. After strong price increases last week, the cost of light, sweet crude for January delivery fell $1.22 in light trading Monday to $62.21 a barrel, as warmer weather and mild forecasts put a damper on demand projections for oil and byproducts such as heating oil, analysts said.

"It was the higher-than-normal temperatures," said Michael Fitzpatrick, vice president for energy risk management at brokerage Fimat USA in New York. In addition, because oil futures prices rose last week, "there's a little profit taking," Fitzpatrick said.

In the retail market, the nationwide cost of self-serve regular increased 2.7 cents in the last seven days to an average of $2.32 a gallon Monday, according to a weekly survey by the federal Energy Department.

California took a bigger hit. Statewide, the average pump price leaped 5.7 cents to $2.561 a gallon, the highest average pump price in more than two months. The largest increases on the West Coast were in San Francisco, where the cost of regular shot up 8.3 cents in the last week to Monday's average of $2.577 a gallon -- nearly 41 cents above prices a year earlier, and more than 25 cents higher than the current national average.

The Oil Price Information Service, which tracks petroleum markets, said gasoline supplies in California tightened up amid refinery maintenance, causing the state's wholesale price of gas to rise more than elsewhere. At one point this month, the wholesale price of gasoline on the Los Angeles spot market was 25 cents a gallon above gasoline futures in New York, but the gap has since lessened to 15 cents, according to the pricing service.

Truckers and other diesel users got a reprieve of sorts over the last week, as the average price in California fell 4.6 cents to $2.917 a gallon Monday, the federal survey showed.

The decline came after a string of increases that boosted the statewide average price of diesel by more than 32 cents a gallon in five weeks.

Nationwide, diesel prices fell 1.5 cents over the last week to $2.606 a gallon Monday, the government said. California's average is more than 31 cents higher.

elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com

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