Turmoil in Iraq is pushing up U.S. gasoline prices
Violence in Iraq is helping to make gasoline in the United States more expensive, depriving drivers of the usual price break between Memorial Day and July Fourth.
The national average price of $3.68 per gallon is the highest for this time of year since 2008, the year gasoline hit its all-time high.
The good news is that gasoline is not likely to spike above $4 as it did six years ago. Or even top $3.90, as in 2011 and 2012.
"You are going to pay a little more than we thought you were going to pay," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service and GasBuddy.com. "But you are not going to see any apocalyptic numbers."
Still, higher fuel costs can reduce economic growth because they raise costs for businesses and leave drivers with less money to spend on other things. A 10-cent rise in the price of gasoline costs a typical driver only an extra $1.50 to fill up a tank, but if that rise is sustained over a year, it costs the U.S. economy $13.5 billion.
The average gas price so far this year, however, is still five cents cheaper than it was last year over the same period.
Gasoline prices typically fall in the weeks following Memorial Day, after supplies increase enough to fill up the cars of the nation's vacationers as summer approaches. Prices have declined during the previous three Junes, an average of 21 cents per gallon, according to AAA.
This year, drivers are paying more. The average has risen every day for a week and is now higher than it was on Memorial Day - with more increases sure to come.
The average in South Jersey on Thursday was $3.50 per gallon, up six cents in the last week, and up from $3.39 a year ago, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, where state gasoline taxes rose this year, Thursday's average was $3.74, up three cents in the last week, and up from $3.56 a year ago, the auto club said.
Even before violence in Iraq broke out, the decline in prices was slower than expected because of rising U.S. fuel demand and extensive maintenance at some Gulf Coast refineries that reduced gasoline output.
Then, last week, Iraqi insurgents seized a pair of cities and pledged to attack Baghdad. None of Iraq's oil fields was targeted - most are far away from the fighting, and oil exports have continued to flow. But Iraq is OPEC's second-largest exporter, so worries that oil production might be affected was enough to send global oil prices up $6, to almost $115 per barrel.
The average price of gas rose three cents per gallon during the last week, and analysts expect more increases over the next couple of weeks.
Drivers in 15 states are already paying more for gas than they have since March 2013, according to Kloza. The national average will likely soon surpass this year's high of $3.70 per gallon, set April 28.
Kloza thinks the national average may get close to last year's high of $3.79 per gallon, but he does not expect to see it reach the highs of 2011 and 2012, when it rose above $3.90 per gallon.