AAA officials say record-high gas possible in April

AAA officials anticipate potential record-high gas prices this month, as the average price regular unleaded gas in metro Atlanta inches up toward the $4-per-gallon mark.

The price of the regular-grade fuel was $3.86 per gallon in the greater Atlanta area on Tuesday, up about 17 cents over March, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A year ago, gas prices in metro Atlanta averaged $3.61 per gallon of regular unleaded gas.

The price of a barrel of oil remained relatively unchanged last week and settled last Thursday, during a shortened trading week, at $103.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex). The price was 29 cents more than the week prior.

Bloomberg.com reported early Tuesday afternoon that crude future prices were falling to around $101 on Nymex, down more than $2 from last Thursday’s closing price.

Both bullish and bearish factors are weighing on the market, helping to keep oil price somewhat stable, according to AAA Auto Club Group spokeswoman Jessica Brady.

Brady said the continued tensions with Iran, the U.S. economic recovery, and a slight increase in gasoline demand place upward pressure on oil prices, while European debt issues cause prices to retreat.

U.S. demand for gasoline, she added, increased in the last week of March by eight-tenths of a percent to 8.8 million barrels a day, which is the highest level since Dec. 23.

“The reduced price of oil is starting to slow down the rate of increase at the pump,” Brady said. “However, gas prices are still expected to move higher this week, just at a slower pace.”

The spokeswoman pointed to historic highs in gas prices preceding the traditional summer travel season.

“Pump prices are at an all-time high for this time of year,” Brady said, “and it’s likely the national average for regular retail gasoline will reach $4 a gallon this month.”

AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report revealed consumers nationwide are paying on average just below $4 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, as mid-grade, premium-grade, and diesel consumers are already paying more than $4 per gallon.

July 2008 set the U.S. record as the most expensive month for gasoline and caused the average American household to spend 10.2 percent of their income to fill up their gas tank, according to Brady, who cited the Oil Price Information Service. She said the average U.S. household spent 8.7 percent of their income on gas last month (March 2012).

Brady pointed out that the national average reached a record high of $4.11 for a gallon of regular unleaded gas back on July 17, 2008, with the most expensive consecutive months on record for gas being from May through August 2008. U.S. households paid between 9.5 and 10.2 percent of their income on fuel.

“This year has the potential to break the 2008 record as the most expensive year for fuel costs,” she added. The national average price of regular unleaded gasoline is the same as last week at $3.92 a gallon.