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Officials: Gas prices may be leveling

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Energy and travel industry officials say there is a possibility that gas prices nationwide have peaked, averaging Monday at just under $2.70 per gallon for regular unleaded.

"Last night was the first time in the last two months that prices dipped a little bit," Neil Gamson, an economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said Monday.

Gamson said that according to AAA surveys, average gas prices may have reached their summertime high over the weekend, as the national average went up only about 3 cents per gallon over last week.

"So much depends on crude oil prices, but it is possible that we may have seen a peak," Gamson said. "If crude oil prices hold or continue to go down, we would have seen a peak. We have to watch what crude oil prices do."

On Friday, crude oil closed at $69.55 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), down $2.49 from the $72.04 per barrel closing price on June 12.

Gamson said the decline in price does not appear to be affected by unrest in the Middle East, including protests of elections in Iran.

"There doesn't seem to be any evidence of that," he said. "Last year, if this had happened in Iran, there might have been more of an impact. Since the global situation economically is much worse than last year, there is more slack in the market."

Gamson added that the average gas price over the past week has risen by the smallest weekly increment since early May, but he expects the monthly July price to be higher than the monthly June price.

Average prices across Georgia rose only 4 cents in the past week, according to AAA Auto Club South. Metro Atlanta prices remained around $2.56 on Monday, slightly below the national average, which remained at $2.69 per gallon of regular unleaded.

"There's a paradox that lies ahead," said Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South. "The good news for consumers is that gasoline futures have started to decline because the Department of Energy reported a surplus of fuel and overall demand remains weak. But, as we saw last summer, the price at the pump doesn't always reflect supply-and-demand fundamentals."

Laskoski said investors continue to use commodities and crude oil as a hedge against a weak dollar, and are believing the economy will improve and global supplies will start to shrink.

"While we may see prices plateau in coming weeks, nobody can accurately predict when the value of the U.S. dollar will increase or decrease," Laskoski said. "But we do know that when it decreases crude oil and gasoline prices usually go up no matter how favorable the supply-and-demand figures may seem."