July 31 (Bloomberg) -- Retail gasoline in the U.S. gained for the fourth straight week, catching up to crude prices that have advanced almost $5 a barrel this month.
The national average price for regular gasoline increased 1.4 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $3.508 a gallon from a week earlier, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report on its website yesterday. Prices are down 20 cents, or 5.5 percent, from a year earlier.
Retail gasoline prices have increased 7 cents a gallon this month as crude, which accounts for about 66 percent of the cost of the motor fuel, gained on speculation that U.S. and European policy makers will act to boost economic growth and that unrest in the Middle East may disrupt supplies. Prices at the pump may plateau next week as oil fluctuates around $90 a barrel, said David Hackett, the president of Stillwater Associates in Irvine, California, an independent fuel consultant.
“Crude prices have calmed down since the mid July run-up,” Hackett said by e-mail yesterday. “Don’t look for gasoline prices to do much unless there are unscheduled refining problems.”
Oil for September delivery was at $89.68 a barrel, down 10 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange today. Futures yesterday slipped 0.4 percent to settle at $89.78. Prices are up $4.72, or 5.6 percent, this month.
Gasoline futures on Nymex dropped as much as 1.7 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $2.9201 a gallon. Prices rose 4.9 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $2.9368 yesterday, the highest settlement since July 20.
The shutdown of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 14 following a July 27 spill has caused at least one U.S. Midwest refiner to slow output. Citgo Petroleum Corp. said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that the shut pipeline, which runs from Superior, Wisconsin, to Griffith/Harsdale in Indiana, is having “some impact” on production at the 170,500 barrel-a-day Lemont refinery in Illinois.
The Lemont plant shut a gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracker July 28 for repairs scheduled to be finished “within the week,” Houston-based Citgo said in the statement.
Valero Energy Corp. also shut a fluid catalytic cracker at the Benicia refinery in Northern California for “several days” of compressor repairs July 26, and the company’s Meraux plant in Louisiana has been shut since a fire in a crude unit July 22.
BP Plc, based in London, may keep a coker at the Whiting refinery in Indiana shut for two to four weeks to perform repairs following a fire July 23, a person with knowledge of operations at the plant said July 27.
Inventories of crude in the U.S. climbed for the first time in five weeks in the seven days ended July 20, rising by 2.72 million barrels to 380.1 million, the Energy Department said July 25. They probably fell 1.05 million barrels, or 0.3 percent, to 379.1 million last week, according to the median of eight analyst estimates before the government report tomorrow.
Motor-gasoline inventories increased by 4.13 million barrels, or 2 percent, to 210 million in the week ended July 20, the Energy Department said. Gasoline stockpiles were probably unchanged last week, the Bloomberg survey showed.
Average U.S. gasoline demand for the four weeks ended July 20 fell 3.2 percent from a year earlier to 8.8 million barrels a day, the Energy Department data showed.
Gasoline rose the most this week in the Midwest, increasing 3.3 cents to $3.515 a gallon, the Energy Department report showed. Prices declined in the Rocky Mountain region and on the West Coast, the agency said.
The Energy Department conducts a telephone survey of about 800 retail gasoline outlets across the U.S. each Monday to post weekly gasoline prices as of 8 a.m. local time that day.
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