US gas prices should drop

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    Some relief from suffocating gas prices will likely arrive just in time for summer vacation in the United States where drivers can expect a drop of nearly 50 cents as early as June, analysts say.

    After rocketing up 91 cents since January, including 44 straight days of increases, the national average this past week stopped just shy of $4 a gallon and has retreated to under $3.98. A steady decline is expected to follow.

    In the Cayman Islands, gas prices rose by about 40 cents a gallon between 27 and 28 April, with the highest price for premium grade gasoline at $5.96 per gallon.

    That followed a 25-cent increase for gasoline in Cayman in early April.

    While relief at the pumps is being touted in the US, there is no prediction of when prices may fall in the Cayman Islands.

    Typically, gas prices peak each spring, then fall into a summertime swoon that can last several weeks. This year’s decline should be gradual but steady, said Fred Rozell, the retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service.

    Some drivers might not notice much of a price drop at first, Rozell cautioned. When average gas prices fluctuate nationally, some areas are affected more than others. In cities with many service stations, for instance, prices can be slower to fall. It’s even possible prices will rise at some stations in coming days even if they decline nationally.

    And after the galloping surge in prices this year, many gas station owners are reluctant to lower prices until they see their competition doing the same, Rozell said.

    “It’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “They’re going to try to get the most they can.”

    Station owners still feel bruised from their own higher costs earlier this year. In some cases, their suppliers raised prices so quickly that station owners couldn’t pass along those higher costs to consumers fast enough. Competition also makes it hard for some stations to raise prices.

    “So station owners will be watching each other this summer,” Rozell said. “When one guy drops, so will the other.” A drop in prices would take some pressure off struggling consumers as well as businesses. As prices soared this year, surveys showed that motorists started to drive less. MasterCard SpendingPulse said this past week that it had recorded its sixth straight week of declining gasoline consumption.

    That’s a cautionary sign for the economy, because most drivers conserve fuel only after curbing spending on other discretionary items like furniture, computers and vacations. Over the past month, gas prices have risen 36 cents a gallon in Columbus, Ohio, to $4.10. Steve Garrett has felt it. He’s scrapped a summer trip to Myrtle Beach, Fla. And the bakery distribution centre where he works has begun closing sites and laying off staff to save fuel on bread and pastry shipments. If prices fall fast enough, Garrett, 43, said he may think about another vacation in August. “But right now, I’m still just scared about the economy,” he said. “I still might lose my job.”

    This past week, a confluence of factors stemmed the rise in gasoline prices.

    Oil, which is used to make gasoline, tumbled 15 per cent in price. Investors who were worried about rising oil supplies and falling gasoline demand in the United States helped drive down the price. Oil prices were also responding to a rising dollar. Oil is priced in dollars. So a stronger dollar makes oil less appealing to people buying with foreign currencies.

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