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Gasoline prices level off temporarily

NEW YORK — Gasoline prices are lower this week after 39 days of increases, though experts say they should rise again in the spring.

The national average, which stayed at $3.758 per gallon on Friday, has dropped about a penny since Monday. Prices are still at the highest levels ever for this time of year.

Tom Kloza, chief analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, said prices dipped as suppliers conducted the equivalent of a spring clearance. They are discounting winter gasoline blends to make room for different blends that are required for summer driving.

Altogether, the discount probably won’t get much notice at the pump. “It’ll spread $325,000 per day in savings among 200 million or so drivers,” Kloza said. “It’s really not that much.”

Once the winter gasoline has been sold off, prices will start to rise again. They have to, Kloza said, since summer gasoline costs more to produce. The switch to summer gas also crimps supplies around the country, and that can force prices higher as well.

The average price for gasoline is already more than $4 per gallon in California, Alaska and Hawaii. It’s nearly there in Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Washington.

OPIS forecasts that average gasoline prices will rise as high as $4.25 per gallon across the country by late April. That would top the record high of $4.11 set in July 2008 and keep gasoline center stage during this year’s presidential election. Republicans have blamed President Barack Obama for the high prices, while Obama has dismissed the criticisms as election-year politics. Obama has asked his attorney general to look into the possibility that commodity speculators are driving prices higher.

The price of gasoline has mostly followed the rising price of its main component, crude oil. Oil, which is traded around the world, has become more expensive this year on fears of supply shortages in the Persian Gulf due to an international standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Oil prices continued to rise Friday after the U.S. said its economy added 227,000 jobs in February. The U.S., the world’s largest oil consumer, has seen the strongest three months of job growth since the Great Recession. An improving economy is likely to lead to more demand for oil.

Benchmark oil prices rose by 87 cents to $107.45 per barrel in New York. Brent crude rose by 19 cents to $125.63 per barrel in London.

Natural gas futures rose by 3 cents to $2.31 per 1,000 cubic feet a day after dropping to the lowest level in 10 years.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell by 1 cents to $3.26 per gallon and gasoline futures rose less than a penny to $3.32 per gallon.