NEW YORK (AP) – Gasoline prices have declined every day for a week following a similar slide in crude prices this month.
But with the national average at nearly $2.73 a gallon on Friday, pump prices are still more expensive than any day last year. They’ve ridden a 10-month rally in energy commodities that doubled oil prices to nearly $80 a barrel by the end of last year.
Experts say they still expect gas prices to reach $3 a gallon sometime this spring, though it may take longer than originally expected.
Oil prices tumbled again Friday, as Wall Street dropped for a third consecutive session. Benchmark crude for March delivery lost $1.54 to settle at $74.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The slide in oil prices this month has pulled down gas prices, as weekly government reports showed the country hasn’t regained its appetite for petroleum. The economy may be slowly recovering, but Americans aren’t burning more fuel than they did last year.
“Demand has been weak all year,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates. “Everyone was expecting China to boost its demand for oil, but even China is starting to slow down its overheated economy.”
The Energy Information Administration said Thursday that the nation’s gasoline supply ballooned by 3.9 million barrels last week as demand fell for the fourth straight week.
U.S. refineries, which have struggled to pass along the higher crude costs to motorists, have responded by drastically slowing down operations. Last week they cut refining to the lowest levels on record, excluding periods when hurricanes forced refineries to shut down in the Gulf of Mexico, according to analyst Stephen Schork.
Retail gas prices lost a penny overnight to a new national average of $2.727, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular unleaded is still 14.3 cents more expensive than it was a month ago, and it’s 87.7 cents more expensive than the same time last year.
In other Nymex trading in February contracts, heating oil fell 4.4 cents to settle at $1.9416 a gallon, while gasoline lost 1.72 cents to settle at $1.9657 a gallon. Natural gas futures added 20.4 cents to settle at $5.819 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent crude for March delivery fell $1.75 to settle at $72.83 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.