Gasoline heading above $3 by this summer

NEW YORK

 Retail gas prices likely bottomed out last week, and they’re again headed to more than $3 a gallon this summer, experts said Monday.

Although pump prices typically rise this time of year as refineries switch to a more expensive grade of gas, the increase likely will frustrate many motorists. Prices are climbing even after millions of Americans received pink slips and kept their cars in the driveway.

“If you look at demand, it’s just abysmal,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at Oil Price Information Service.

What’s pushing prices higher isn’t American consumption. It’s the crude oil that’s used to make motor fuel, Rozell said. Crude is an international commodity that’s become ever more expensive as demand grows in China. As crude increases, so does gas.

On Monday retail gas prices rose for the fifth straight day, adding less than a penny overnight to a new national average of $2.648 a gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and OPIS.

A gallon of regular unleaded is still cheaper than it was a month ago. It’s also 73.1 cents more expensive than the same time last year.

In the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula metro area Monday, a gallon of regular was $2.548, up from $2.495 a week ago and $1.781 a year ago, according to AAA.

Rozell said motorists shouldn’t expect a return of the price spikes of 2008, when gasoline jumped to more than $4 a gallon in some parts of the country. Americans simply aren’t burning enough fuel to push prices that high.

“I’ll be surprised if it got over $3.25,” he said.

Gasoline futures also jumped Monday to the highest price in more than a month as investors looked ahead to summer driving season.

Prices also were propped up by a festering refinery strike in France, where angry workers have shut down more than half of the country’s refining capacity.

Benchmark oil for March delivery added 35 cents Monday to settle at $80.16 a barrel on the contract’s final day of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Most of the trading volume already has shifted to the April contract, which added 25 cents to settle at $80.31 a barrel.

By CHRIS KAHN – The Associated Press

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