Gasoline Needs Further Oil Rise to Reach $4 a Gallon at the Pump

Retail gasoline would need crude oil to extend its 11 percent surge in the two weeks ended Feb. 24 in order to reach $4 a gallon, according to gasoline analyst Trilby Lundberg.

The average price for regular gasoline at U.S. filling stations rose 18.16 cents to $3.6917 a gallon in the two weeks ended Feb. 24, according to Lundberg Survey Inc. In that same period, West Texas Intermediate crude jumped $11.10 a barrel while London benchmark Brent oil increased $8.16, Lundberg, president of Lundberg Survey, said today in a telephone interview.

“The momentum suggests we can’t be assured of a $4 price this spring, and gasoline can’t do it on its own because demand is still poor and supplies are ample, Lundberg said. ‘‘To move another 31 cents to $4, it would take a crude oil price increase larger than what we have seen.”

April-delivery WTI fell for the first time in eight days today, dropping $1.21 to $108.56 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after reaching a nine-month high on Feb. 24.

Gasoline is 51.26 cents higher than a year ago, Lundberg said. If crude prices stay at this level, gasoline could rise another 5 to 8 cents in the next two weeks, she said. The Camarillo, California-based company surveys about 2,500 stations.

In 2011, prices peaked at $4 a gallon on May 6 and then finished the year 76 cents lower. Between 1999 and 2011, the average price rose 44.1 cents a gallon between January and June, Lundberg said Feb. 17. Prices tend to rise in the spring because of seasonal demand and the higher cost of refining summer-grade gasoline.

Gasoline Stockpiles

U.S. gasoline stockpiles declined 649,000 barrels to 231.5 million in the week ended Feb. 17, according to the Energy Department. Supplies, which have gained 13 percent since Nov. 4, are 2.8 percent below a year earlier.

Deliveries to wholesalers rose 5.6 percent to 8.63 million barrels a day during the period, the highest level in eight weeks. Demand during the four weeks ended Feb. 17 was 6.1 percent below a year earlier.

Lundberg said in a Feb. 17 report that the average price for 2012 will be $3.50 for regular grade, 2 cents lower than in 2011. She said today that she has not updated that report since the recent rise in crude prices.

“The logic holds but it can’t be known what crude will do,” Lundberg said.

Price Outlook

The Energy Department, in its Feb. 6 Short Term Energy Outlook, projected that gasoline prices will average $3.55 this year, 2 cents higher than 2011. Prices will average about 7 cents higher during the April-through-September peak driving season. There is about a one-in-four chance the average will exceed $4 in June, the report said.

The highest price in the lower 48 states among the cities surveyed was in San Diego at $4.24 a gallon. The lowest price was in Denver where prices averaged $3.07 a gallon.

On Long Island, regular gasoline sold for $3.91 a gallon. Los Angeles-area retail stations average $4.22 a gallon.

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