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Gas prices fall in California, rise in nation

The U.S. average cost increases for the first time since early August, but experts don't see another big price surge.

October 31, 2006|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

California gasoline prices continued to fall, but the U.S. average fuel cost rose for the first time since early August, the Energy Department said Monday.

Fuel experts said they didn't anticipate another big price surge, blaming last week's increase on fears of a drawdown in U.S. petroleum inventories -- so far unfounded -- and the threat of a terrorist strike at Saudi Arabian oil installations, which never materialized.

Gasoline prices had not risen nationally since their 2006 peak of $3.004 a gallon Aug. 7, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey of filling stations.

On Monday, the U.S. average increased a penny to $2.218 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline from the previous Monday. The national average was 26.2 cents below the price set a year earlier.

Referring to the 1-cent gas increase as "a dead cat bounce," Phil Flynn, senior market analyst for Alaron Trading Corp., said that another price dip could be on the horizon, but "long term we are probably close to a bottom."

The jump was biggest in the Midwest, up 4.9 cents to $2.196 a gallon. Midwest prices had peaked at $3.034 in August, higher than anywhere outside the West Coast and had fallen more than 91 cents, perhaps triggering a surge in regional driver demand, Flynn speculated.

The Gulf Coast, which had the cheapest gasoline at $2.102 a gallon, saw a 1.1-cent increase. The average price also rose in the lower Atlantic region, up 1.6 cents to $2.152 a gallon.

In California, the per-gallon average fell 4.7 cents to $2.434, down 31.3 cents from a year earlier.

Wholesale gasoline and oil futures prices fell Monday after rising slightly last week. Part of that increase was caused by worries about a terrorist assault on one or more Saudi Arabian oil installations, said John Kilduff, an energy analyst with Fimat USA Inc.

Experts said the energy futures market also reacted to a weather-related shutdown last week at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the largest U.S. import terminal.

"Everyone is saying now that the drop was a fluke and not a sign of a decline in U.S. supplies," Flynn said.

A new warm weather forecast by the National Weather Service helped December oil futures drop $2.39 to $58.36 a barrel Monday in New York. Analysts said the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had not yet carried through on a threat to reduce deliveries by 1.2 million barrels a day.

Gasoline futures for November delivery fell 10.44 cents to $1.46 a gallon. Reformulated gasoline, which is blended with ethanol before delivery, fell 9.63 cents to $1.46 a gallon.

ron.white@latimes.com

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