The price of gasoline jumped by nearly a nickel over the weekend and is now $3.80 per gallon
That's the highest ever for this time of year. Pump prices have risen an average 52 cents this year as refineries and wholesalers pass along the higher cost of crude oil. And this month they're getting an additional boost as investors bet that supplies will shrink ahead of the summer driving season.
It's an easy bet to make, independent commodities trader Jim Ritterbusch said. Supplies tend to fall in April as refineries sell off their existing gasoline inventories to make room for a different blend that's required in the summer. And driving tends to go up in the summer as schools go on vacation.
"Every year between March and May, you have a lot of people buying into this market," Ritterbusch said. "They're trying to stay ahead of the crowd" and buy gasoline while it's still relatively cheap.
The Oil Price Information Service says gas prices could rise as high as $4.25 per gallon. Prices will likely peak in late April, then fall through the summer as gasoline markets look ahead to a slowdown in travel during the fall.
Already drivers in several states including Illinois, New York, Washington D.C., Michigan, Connecticut, Oregon and Washington are paying prices around the $4 mark. California drivers are paying an average of $4.36.
Drivers in Hawaii are paying the most at $4.44 per gallon, while those in Wyoming are paying the least at $3.30 per gallon. Prices vary throughout the U.S. due to differing state taxes, transportation costs and other regional expenses.
Meanwhile, oil prices fell Monday after Chinese trade data suggested a weakening global economy. China reported a slowdown in growth in both imports and exports in its February trade data over the weekend.
Benchmark West Texas Intermediate gave up $1.32 to $106.11 per barrel in New York while Brent crude fell by 89 cents to $125.09 per barrel in London.
Natural gas dipped to a new 10-year low, falling by 7.9 cents to $2.245 per 1,000 cubic feet. Natural gas prices have plummeted this year thanks to a recent boom in production and weak heating demand this winter.
In other energy trading, heating oil fell by 2.19 cents to $3.2419 per gallon and gasoline futures gave up a penny to $3.3224 per gallon.
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