Are gas prices about to take off?
Prices at the pump have been dropping for months. Industry analysts are trying to gauge future movement, but say the 'fiscal cliff' could be a determining factor.
Has the easing of prices at the pump been a final holiday present for consumers, or just part of the annual cycle of supply and demand?
Gas prices have been dropping for months. Several cities even reported unleaded gas dipping below $3 per gallon over the holidays, but in recent days the price of gas has been creeping up. The national average for a gallon of unleaded was $3.28 Friday, up from $3.26 Thursday and $3.23 a week ago, according to AAA.
AAA singles out several factors for the decrease in prices this fall and winter: larger gas inventories, lower crude oil prices, less demand for gas during the winter months as well as a switchover to less-expensive winter blends of gasoline. The ongoing economic downturn is also having people think twice about how often they find themselves at the pump.
But prices are due to bottom out sooner or later. And now, with crude oil prices firming and continued political and economic uncertainty, the market is apparently at a crossroads.
"Whether gas prices continue to rise or again turn lower will be impacted by action -- or inaction -- in Washington surrounding the looming 'fiscal cliff,'" said AAA’s Avery Ash in the Association's latest Fuel Gauge Report Overview.
"If a deal is reached before the end-of-year deadline it will likely be seen as positive for the U.S. economy, which could send crude prices and gas prices higher. If a deal is not reached, markets are likely to slump and gas prices could go even lower."
But other observers believe the trend is for gas prices to rebound as they usually do in the new year.
"It's happened six out of the last seven years: The national average has risen between Christmas Day and Jan. 15, and this year there's no reason to believe now that this won't happen again," says petroleum analyst Patrick DeHann in his GasBuddy.com blog.
And you can also throw into that mix new projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration for 2013 and beyond.
The EIA is expecting greater domestic energy production, particularly of crude oil, to continue -- with overall gas consumption to be lower next year. The a.gency says the introduction of stricter fuel economy standards in new vehicles, along with the increased use of natural gas in heavy-duty vehicles, should also have a lasting impact on gas and other energy sources.
These changes, said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski in a press release, show how "evolving consumer preferences, improved technology, and economic changes are pushing the nation toward more domestic energy production, greater vehicle efficiency, greater use of clean energy and reduced energy imports."
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