Woodall’s at 1400 N. Jefferson St. shows a common gas price sign at $368.9 on Monday afternoon. Albany motorists are paying 34 cents a gallon more for gasoline than they did one year ago. (Staff photo, Laura Williams)
ALBANY — The pinch at the pump is getting more painful by the day.
That national average cost of a gallon of retail gasoline rose for the 21st consecutive day Monday on the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. Three full weeks and counting of rising gas prices have brought the national average to its highest price since the middle of the summer driving season last year.
Monday morning, the national average price for regular-grade retail gas was $3.638, up a half-cent from Sunday and a 5.9-cent jump from April 7. A month ago, the average was 12.2 cents lower at $3.516. The price also is more than a dime higher than April 14, 2013, when it stood at $3.532.
“The demand for gasoline is driving up the price of oil, which in turn, is pumping up the price of gasoline,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Prices are expected to keep rising in the near future due to unexpectedly lower supplies and rising demand.”
Reuters News Service reported Friday that consumer confidence in the United States has risen to a nine-month high this month. Meanwhile, government figures released in the middle of last week showed a draw down in the domestic oil supply, indicating heavy demand even before the “official” traveling season hits on Memorial Day.
U.S. crude oil prices were up more than $1 per barrel at some points during trading Friday before oil settled at $103.74, up 34 cents. U.S. oil settled Monday up another 31 cents per barrel at $104.05.
On Monday, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released results of its survey of the labor market that showed U.S. consumers have more confidence in it, with 48.95 percent of respondents indicating they felt they had an average chance of obtaining a new job if they lost their current one. That figure trailed only January’s 49.88 percent to claim the second highest percentage since June 2013 for that question. U.S. retail sales also were up by the highest amount in 18 months, further indicating stronger consumer confidence.
But the with bolstered spirit likely will come with higher cost of travel this spring and summer.
“When consumer confidence is up, the price of oil often follows, because speculators believe more people will be buying gasoline,” Jenkins said. “Meanwhile, refineries that reduced their output during maintenance season are working to return to full capacity. This supply shortage, coupled with the switch to the more expensive summer-blend fuel, are typical factors that result in higher gas prices this time of year.”
How high will they go? In its summer forecast this week, the Energy Information Service predicted an average price of $3.57 per gallon during the summer driving season, down a penny from last year. AAA has forecast that prices will peak between $3.55 and $3.75 this spring, which means they already have nudged toward the high end of that projection.
In Georgia, gas prices in the $3.659-$3.679 range were common Sunday along Interstate 75 from Cordele to Atlanta. According to the Fuel Gauge Report, however, Georgia’s average price Monday morning was still well below the national average at $3.582, a 6-cent increase from April 7 and a 24.3-cent jump from March 14. It’s also significantly higher than Georgia motorists were paying in April 2013, when a gallon of gas was $3.395 — 18.7 cents lower than Monday.
Motorists in the metro Albany area were not as fortunate. Though at least two East Albany gas stations were advertising $3.509 Monday morning, Albany had the second-highest average cost of the state’s eight metro areas that are tabulated on the Fuel Gauge Report at $3.63. Only Valdosta, at $3.673, was higher.
And while Albany motorists did see a 1.4-cent decline from Sunday, Monday’s number was 10.6 cents a gallon higher week-to-week and a significant 37.4 cents higher than March 14. The pump pain is also quite a bit higher than last year, when Albany’s average was $3.29 — 34 cents per gallon cheaper. That means it was costing motorists an average of $5.78 more to fill up a 17-gallon gas tank Monday than it cost them a year ago.
Motorists looking for relative bargains at the pump would have to drive all the way to the Augusta metro area, where they would Monday’s best state average of $3.446, 12.1 cents below the No. 2 Columbus metro area, which was at $3.567.
The other metro four areas from lowest to highest on the Fuel Gauge Report were Athens, $3.570; Atlanta, $3.578; Macon, $3.585, and Savannah, $3.587.
Nationally, according to the AAA report, the cheapest average gas price average Monday was $3.317 in Montana, which just edged out Utah ($3.318). The most expensive place to fuel up was in Hawaii, where motorists were paying $4.311. On the continental United States, the highest average price was in California — $4.172.