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No break in sight for gas prices

Crude oil hits 9-month high

Motorists pump gasoline on Wednesday at the Citgo Food Mart in Jonesboro. The average price of regular unleaded gasoline in Georgia is $3.54 a gallon.

Motorists pump gasoline on Wednesday at the Citgo Food Mart in Jonesboro. The average price of regular unleaded gasoline in Georgia is $3.54 a gallon.

It is another week of bad news at the pump for motorists nationwide, including those in the Southeast and Georgia, where the average price of a gallon of unleaded regular jumped between 2 cents and 4 cents, this week, continuing the upward trend.

Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA, said both crude oil and gasoline prices rose last week, after news reports that the U.S. economy was improving, that a bailout plan for Greece was being worked out, and that tensions between Western nations and Iran were escalating.

“A couple of weeks ago, it looked as if consumers might see some relief at the pump, after oil prices traded below $100 a barrel for several consecutive weeks, but that is no longer the case,” Brady said.

She said gas prices keep increasing, breaking monthly records as they rise, and the forecast is that there will be no relief anytime soon.

Georgia’s average price of regular gasoline is $3.54 a gallon, 2 cents higher than last week, said Brady. Tennessee’s is $3.48 a gallon, and Florida’s much-higher average price is $3.67, she said. Both represent an increase of 4 cents from last week. The national average is $3.56 a gallon, 6 cents more than the week prior, she said.

The states of California and Hawaii have already passed the $4-a-gallon mark, Brady added. “Although U.S. fuel demand remains sluggish, and it’s evident consumers are doing what they can to cut associated costs, it’s not having a significant impact on the market,” she explained. “Retail gas prices are expected to increase further this week.”

Brady said prices at the pumps may hit $4 a gallon by spring, in many areas of the country.

A barrel of oil closed at $103.24, On Feb. 17, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That is $4.57 higher than the previous week, she said. The closing price reached a 9-month high, while gasoline prices keep breaking records as they climb.

These hikes are due to a variety of information that made the market in oil attractive to investors and speculators. The United States Department of Commerce, for example, reported that U.S. contractors broke ground on more residences than were forecast in January, Brady said. The U.S. Department of Labor declared that there were 348,000 insurance applications filled out by the jobless during the second week of February — a decline of 13,000.

Further boosting prices, are concerns that Iran will stop oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz, and deter exports to French and British Companies, Brady said.

Also, the Euro zone finance ministers, composed of European leaders, had agreed to a $172 billion bailout for Greece during a meeting on Monday, Brady said. However, it wasn’t clear if the agreement was final.

If the bailout agreement holds, Brady said, oil prices will likely rise even more.