Higher pump prices coming your way this spring

Gas pump prices that are around $3 a gallon now may seem like a bargain by the time your kids are on Easter egg hunts.

Pump prices have risen nearly 9 percent since Dec. 1 and topped $3.10 a gallon this week. That’s the highest level since October 2008. The price may rise or fall a little over the next few months, but analysts expect it to range between $3.20 and $3.75 gallon by March and April ahead of the summer driving season.

The national average for regular gasoline about $3.12 a gallon on Friday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That’s nearly 12 cents more than a month ago and 38 cents above a year ago.

Average pump prices range from $2.81 to $3.70 in major cities. For example, the average in Salt Lake City is $2.74 a gallon and in New Orleans it’s $2.97 a gallon. Drivers in San Francisco pay $3.44 a gallon, and in Honolulu gas is $3.58 a gallon.

Americans typically drive less in the winter. Demand is about 1 percentage point higher than a year ago but remains weaker than the historical average, said energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch. The nation’s gasoline supplies remain above the five-year average.

Over the next couple of months, refineries will conduct regular maintenance to prepare for the changeover to summer driving mixes. That could affect supplies, but gas prices should remain steady to a few cents more, according to oil analyst Tom Kloza of Oil Price Information Service.

By spring he expects the average price to rise to between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon. Ritterbusch expects $3.20 to $3.25 a gallon by Memorial Day.

For every penny the price at the pump increases, it costs consumers overall an additional $4 million, according to Cameron Hanover analyst Peter Beutel. If the price goes up a dime a gallon, consumers pay $40 million more each day for that increase.

Crude oil prices fell again on Friday as traders speculated about whether China may impose more restrictions to control the growth of its economy, and looked for more signs that the U.S. economy is headed for better days.

Benchmark oil for March delivery fell 48 cents to settle at $89.11 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil rose 2.76 cents to settle at $2.6508 a gallon, and gasoline added 3.64 cents to settle at $2.4589 a gallon. Natural gas for March delivery gained 5.1 cents to settle at $4.743 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude rose $1.02 to settle at $97.60 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.

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