Some energy prices rose on Wednesday, but analysts expect weak gasoline demand to continue as heavy snowfall across the Northeast keeps drivers off the road.
"It's easy to cocoon when there's so much snow," said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service.
Gasoline prices ticked up in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but closed flat at $1.929 a gallon.
Retail gasoline prices fell 0.003 cents overnight to a national average of $2.641 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Prices are 10.6 cents lower than a month ago, but still 71.3 cents higher than year-ago levels.
A dangerous blizzard is making it difficult for convenience stores in the Northeast to get deliveries of gas, as many motorists pull into parking lots to get out of traffic.
"It's extremely difficult to get deliveries," said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. "It's really compounded by the fact that our stores are convenient for everything, including people pullling over and leaving their cars and trucks. Our lots are becoming safe havens, which is good in a way, but it's really hard to get deliveries."
Benchmark crude for March delivery rose 77 cents to settle at $74.52 on the Nymex. Earlier in the day crude prices fell after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke mapped out a plan for gradually unwinding government stimulus money when the economy recovers. That boosted the dollar and sent crude prices down. A stronger dollar makes crude more expensive for investors holding other currencies.
Oil rose again to follow the stock market, which recovered from morning losses on word that European nations will help keep Greece from going bankrupt.
In its short-term energy outlook released Wednesday, The Energy Information Administration said oil prices will strengthen in the spring, with benchmark prices rising to about $81 per barrel over the second half of the year and to $84 per barrel in 2011. It predicted a rise in the average retail gasoline price to $2.84 per gallon in 2010 from $2.35 per gallon in 2009, adding that pump prices may exceed $3 per gallon in the spring and summer.
Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries left its global forecast for oil demand growth unchanged. It expects demand to increase by about 800,000 barrels a day this year, with daily consumption averaging 85.1 million barrels.
In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil rose 0.96 cents to settle at $1.9469 a gallon, and natural gas was up 0.2 cent, settling at $5.292 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent crude climbed 41 cents to settle at $72.54 on the ICE futures exchange.
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