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23 mayo 2007

Gasoline hits record high for 2nd week

Energy Information Administration says average price jumped 11.5 cents to $3.22 a gallon.

U.S. retail gasoline prices hit a record high for the second week in a row and matched the inflation-adjusted peak reached in the early 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, the government said on Monday, as concern about low motor fuel supplies pushed up pump costs.

The average price for regular unleaded gasoline soared 11.5 cents over the past week to a fresh record of $3.22 a gallon, according to the federal Energy Information Administration's nationwide survey of 800 service stations.

The much larger Lundberg industry survey of 7,000 stations showed the national price of gasoline jumped 11.4 cents over the past two weeks to a record $3.18 a gallon.

The latest EIA pump price also equals the all-time high fuel cost of $3.22 a gallon, when adjusted for inflation, reached in March 1981 after war erupted between Iran and Iraq.

Guy Caruso, who heads the EIA, said on Monday that consumers should not see gasoline prices begin falling until next month.

"We are expecting that things should improve in June," he said. "We still have some more of the wholesale [gasoline] prices to pass through [to the pump]. We're not at the peak yet."

Gasoline prices have skyrocketed $1.05 a gallon since the beginning of February and are up 33 cents from a year ago.

With several large refineries down this spring for maintenance or shut by problems, gasoline production has been reduced, cutting into available supplies.

"The main effect on gasoline prices this year is ... there's been a significant amount of refineries offline," Caruso said.

However, the high pump prices are attracting gasoline imports, which recently hit the fifth-highest weekly level ever at 1.5 million barrels a day.

Caruso said he expected imports to remain strong, which will boost supplies and, as more refineries return to operations, put downward pressure on pump prices later this summer.

Many U.S. consumers, especially low-income families, are being hurt financially by the record gasoline costs.

"High gas prices are hitting families hard, but they're also causing our economy to stall and sputter like a jalopy," Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said on Monday. He said the mileage requirements for U.S. vehicles must be increased to reduce gasoline demand and prices in the long term.

In the EIA's new weekly survey, West Coast service stations had the most expensive fuel by region, down 0.6 cents at $3.37 a gallon. Among major cities, San Francisco had the highest gasoline costs at $3.51 a gallon, down 2.4 cents.

The Central Atlantic states had the lowest regional price at $3.08 a gallon, up 7.1 cents. Houston had the best deal at the pump at $2.98 a gallon, up 13.9 cents.

The EIA also reported gasoline prices were down 1.5 cents at $3.42 in Los Angeles, down 0.6 cents at $3.42 in Seattle, up 16.5 cents at $3.53 in Chicago, up 8.6 cents at $3.30 in Denver, up 6.7 cents at $3.21 in Cleveland, up 8.5 cents at $3.17 in Miami and up 5.6 cents at $3.10 in New York City.

Gas prices affect the revenues of such companies as BP (Charts), Exxon Mobil (Charts, Fortune 500), Chevron (Charts, Fortune 500) and ConocoPhillips (Charts, Fortune 500)