U.S. drivers are hoping 2013 doesn't start off like 2012 at the gas pump. So far, so good.
Gasoline now averages $3.30 a gallon, up about half a penny since Jan. 1. A year ago, gas rose about 10 cents in the first week or so because of a jump in oil prices, and it nearly hit $4 in early April.
Oil prices should dictate what happens next with pump prices. Economic factors affecting oil are mixed — economies in the U.S. and China are showing modest improvement, while Europe remains in recession.
The wild card is the Middle East. In the past two years, threats to shipments of oil from the region drove crude prices higher during the winter. That led to a surge in pump prices by spring.
On Monday benchmark crude slid 11 cents to $92.98 a barrel in New York. Brent crude dropped 27 cents to $111.04 in London.
Americans paid an average $3.60 for a gallon gas in 2012, eclipsing the record of $3.51 a gallon set in 2011, according to AAA. Oil prices remained high and unplanned outages plagued refineries across the U.S., including some in the Gulf Coast and in the New York area that were hit by Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy.
The Energy Department expects gas to average $3.43 a gallon this year. That's based on an anticipated decline in Brent crude, which is a benchmark for oil imported on the U.S. East Coast, to an average of $104 a barrel.
Drivers in Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming are paying below $3 a gallon on average. Hawaii remains the only state above $4. New York is the second-highest at an average $3.75 a gallon.
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