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Gas price rise streak ends at 39 days, but diesel still climbing

March 06, 2012|By Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer
  • A sign shows gas prices over $5 a gallon for regular unleaded at a Chevron service station in Los Angeles. The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline finally fell after rising for 39 straight days.
A sign shows gas prices over $5 a gallon for regular unleaded at a Chevron… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

The latest streak in the nation's gasoline price pain finally ended overnight after 39 straight days of increase, the AAA Fuel Gauge Report said. But the small drop of 0.33 of a cent to a U.S. average of $3.764 for a gallon of regular was unlikely to bring any smiles to motorists.

Still, analysts noted that it was the first price break since January. Gasoline prices have been on an almost relentless rise since the end of the Labor Day weekend, setting all-time records for prices in California and the nation in September, October, November, December, January, February and March.

"The streak is over," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) in New Jersey. But he added a couple of statistics that give a sense of the huge impact fuel prices have been having on the U.S. economic recovery.

That small 0.33 of a cent decline, spread across the nation's driving population "suggests that the nation's fuel bill declined by about $1.15 million overnight," Kloza said. But that was the one drop of good news in an otherwise unrelenting tide.

"Prior to today, gasoline prices had increased in 2012 by 48.77 cents a gallon, implying a daily cost increase of about $170-million per day for the country, from New Year's Eve levels," Kloza said.

Unfortunately for Californians, prices are still rising. The state's average for a gallon of regular gasoline climbed an additional 0.3 of a cent overnight to $4.346 a gallon.

Far less of the nation's attention has been riveted on diesel prices, where there has been no drop in the national average in 39 straight days. The price of a gallon of diesel nationally was averaging $4.084, up 0.1 of a cent overnight.

In California, a gallon of diesel was averaging $4.498 a gallon, up 0.1 of a cent overnight.

Gasoline prices affect the amount of money consumers have left over for other spending. Diesel affects the prices of most of the things they have to buy. Rising diesel prices raise the costs of the construction industry, long- and short-haul trucking and cargo delivery, express and regular mail delivery, rail freight costs, and farming and agriculture costs.

The reasons for the high fuel costs are many and too numerous to mention in every article. They include the high price of oil, which accounts for 80% of the cost of gasoline. Refinery shutdowns have also affected fuel supplies, as have a record number of U.S. exports of fuel distillates such as diesel.

Investment speculators, hedge funds and other are also driving up the price of commodities futures with billions of dollars in long-term bets that the cost of gasoline and oil will continue to rise.

Oil prices were down in trading Tuesday, falling $1.98 to $104.74 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London trading, oil fell $1.86 to $121.94 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange.

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