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Gas prices flat, but probably not for long

Gasoline costs are expected to begin climbing soon because of surging crude oil prices. Pump prices fell slightly in California over the last week and rose slightly nationally.

December 20, 2010|By Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times

Surging oil prices generally lead to soaring costs at the pump for retail gasoline. That hasn't happened with the recent jump in the price of crude, but it could soon.

Crude oil for January delivery climbed 79 cents, or 0.9%, to settle at $88.81 a barrel Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Analysts said the rise was unusual for this time of year and blamed it on a spate of refinery outages.

But over the last week in California the average price at the pump fell slightly, by 0.3 cent to $3.247 a gallon.

Nationally the average retail price was up 0.2 cent to $2.982, the Energy Department said Monday. That was a new high for the year, according to the Energy Department's weekly telephone survey of filling stations around the U.S. It was 39.3 cents a gallon higher than the year-earlier average.

Experts expect this to be only a temporary reprieve before pump prices start heading upward.

"The surge [in crude prices] was unexpected in a light Christmas week of trading, and it augurs for a likely move in the national average retail price to beyond $3 a gallon by midweek," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey, who added that "the strong gasoline numbers helped crude oil."

Kloza's firm also said American households would spend, on average, about $305 on gasoline in the month of December, almost a 14% increase compared with the same month a year ago.

ron.white@latimes.com

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