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Energy Department Increases U.S. Gasoline Pump Price Outlook

March 6 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Energy Department raised its forecast for prices at the pump for all of 2012 and during the peak driving season from April through September.

Regular-grade gasoline will average $3.79 a gallon this year, the highest level in data going back to 1976, and $3.72 in 2013, the department’s Energy Information Administration said today in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook. The EIA said last month that prices would average $3.55 in 2012 and $3.59 next year.

Prices during the April-through-September peak driving season will average $3.925 a gallon, 5.7 percent higher than a year ago, the department estimated.

“There are a lot of forces pushing up gasoline, including strong crude prices and logistical constraints,” said Sander Cohan, a global transportation fuels analyst and principal with Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Massachusetts. “It wouldn’t be unexpected to see gasoline prices over $4.”

The Energy Department lowered its forecast for U.S. gasoline demand for 2012 and 2013.

Gasoline consumption will average 8.67 million barrels a day, down from 8.74 million in 2011, That’s 0.5 percent below last month’s projection of 8.71 million.

The department forecast that in 2013 consumption of the motor fuel will decline to 8.66 million barrels a day, lower than the 8.69 million barrels estimated in the February report.

“When you start seeing prices above $4, drivers tend to curtail demand,” Cohan said.

The U.S. will export 530,000 barrels a day more petroleum products that it imports in 2012 and 370,000 barrels next year. That’s an increase from the previous projection of 350,000 barrels a day this year and 320,000 barrels in 2013.

The U.S. was a net exporter of petroleum products last year for the first time since 1949, as shipments abroad exceeded imports by 439,000 barrels a day, the department said Feb. 29 in its Petroleum Supply Monthly report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Barbara J Powell in Dallas at bpowell4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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