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AAA says 'uncertainties' drive up gas prices

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

On average, metro Atlantans are paying 10 cents more per gallon of gasoline than they did a week ago, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

"We are hoping that next week, we will see prices go down ... a few cents, at least," said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.

Brady said the recent climb in average prices is partly related to continued uncertainties in the economy, such as the United State's stagnate unemployment rate. She said gas prices also have been responding to the swell in crude oil prices earlier this month, leaving retailers with less room with which to slash prices at the pump.

"Profit margins for gas retailers have decreased to 11.1 cents per gallon nationally, down from 19.6 cents in January," Brady said.

AAA reported that national, retail, gasoline prices are averaging about $2.70, about the same as this time last month. Atlanta retailers averaged $2.60 per gallon of regular unleaded gas Thursday, up from $2.50 per gallon the week prior, and surpassing average prices reported one month ago.

Brady said she anticipates that there will be a median range of average gas prices, fluctuating a few cents, now through mid-spring -- barring any unforeseen circumstances that could affect prices. She said she expects prices will increase slightly throughout this summer.

That predication is backed up by a national economist. "As we go through the driving season, starting in April, I think we're going to see prices continue to rise," said Neil Gamson, an economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). "We have prices going up a dime in April, a continued increase in May to about $2.90, and in June and July, see a national average of about $2.98 per gallon."

According to AAA, regular unleaded gas prices continue to be higher than they were a year ago, but are much cheaper than record-high averages set in 2008, when the average national price reached $4.11, and the state average price was $4.16.

"Prices aren't going to be what we saw in 2008," Gamson said, "but there could be some areas in parts of the country where we could see $3."

Gamson said the refineries' more expensive summer grade of gas, due at the pump in June, will push gas prices up slightly as the warmer months approach. EIA's longer-term projections, he added, have gas prices increasing to more than $3 on average during the summer of 2011.