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More signs suggest that gasoline prices may already have peaked

April 30, 2012|By Ronald D. White

Only once in the last 20 years have gasoline prices peaked before mid-May. Oil prices haven't been that remarkably predictable, but one could usually expect them to peak sometime during the U.S. summer driving season, experts say. But in 2012, the old patterns don't seem to apply.

The U.S. average for a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped steadily since April 5, when it reached its high for the year, so far, of $3.926 a gallon, according to Marie Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. The current national average is $3.816 a gallon, down 0.3 cents overnight and down 4.2 cents since last week.

U.S. gas prices haven't peaked before mid-May since 1998, according to Energy Department records.

California gasoline prices were the first in the nation to fall. They peaked at $4.362 a gallon on March 14, Montgomery said. The current California average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $4.163, down 0.4 cents overnight and off 2.5 cents since last week.

Prices are posted daily on the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, using data compiled from more than 120,000 retail outlets around the nation by the Oil Price Information Service and by Wright Express.

Also in California, the Board of Equalization said that gasoline consumption in the state continued to decline in January of this year. Consumption fell 10 times in the 11-month period that ended in January, the board said.

Around the U.S., eight states, including California, remain stubbornly above $4 a gallon, but some probably will drop below that mark sometime this week.

"The old price patterns are breaking down," said Joe Hahn, an associate professor at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. "It's beginning to look like the peak price for gasoline may have been much earlier this year." Hahn specializes in energy price modeling.

The other change, Hahn said, is that oil prices began the year at their highest averages ever and have remained there. U.S. oil prices have averaged more than $100 a barrel in 2012. Today, U.S. oil prices fell 49 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange but remained above $100 a barrel, at $104.47. In London, crude fell 70 cents to $119.13 on the ICE Futures Exchange in Europe.

RELATED:

Why have gas prices been so high?

Record high averages for oil and gasoline

Record gasoline costs for Americans, record profits for OPEC

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