U.S. gas average may hit $4 next week

Americans getting an early start on the Memorial Day weekend found that gasoline prices again sprinted to a new record high overnight, reaching a national average above $3.83 a gallon. Some analysts predict gas will break past $4 as early as next week.

Oil prices, meanwhile, fell Thursday after setting a new record of $135.09 in overnight trading.

Oil’s surge is contributing directly to the pain consumers feel every time they fill up. At the pump, the average national price of a gallon of regular gas rose 2.4 cents overnight to $3.831, according to a survey of stations by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Prices are 61 cents higher than a year ago.

Unlike last year, oil prices are setting new record highs on a daily basis. That’s pushing gas prices higher, and analysts see no reason for gas not to follow.

Analysts said oil futures are caught between the supply and demand concerns that boosted crude to its latest record, and a desire by some investors to cash in some profits.

At times in a price runup that’s added nearly $9 to a price of crude this week, and almost $16 over the past month, investors will sell to take profits, analysts said. Crude rose $4.19 a barrel on Wednesday alone.

Still, many analysts argue that oil prices have risen far beyond levels that can be justified by supply and demand. This school of thought believes the dollar’s decline has attracted speculators to oil and other commodities, artificially inflating prices.

Some analysts see signs in the prices differences between the current July crude contract and contracts for delivery in future months that could mean oil prices are set to decline in coming months.

Clarion Ledger
5/22/8