The Week

The long-awaited first full day of spring finally arrived, ending the seemingly interminable “winter of our http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/261500.html discontent.” It’s a sign the summer driving season is only a few months away. Unfortunately, with the arrival of the vernal equinox, fuel prices soared to their highest price point nationally in six months. Call it “March Mayhem” at the self-serve gasoline kiosk. Motorists haven’t seen this type of madness with pump prices this high since September 14, 2013.

The national average price at the pump rose to $3.53 per gallon Friday, two cents above week ago prices, and 15 cents more expensive than one month ago. However, the average price of gas is cheaper than it was at this point last year, when it was going for $3.69 per gallon, a swing of 16 cents. New Jersey motorists are getting a bit of a reprieve with prices down one penny since a week ago to $3.37 per gallon for full-serve regular.

The seasonal surge in retail gasoline prices wasn’t entirely unexpected. This time of year refineries across the USA are undergoing maintenance ahead of the EPA-mandated switchover to the production of more expensive summer-blended gasoline. The process, which is slated for completion by April 1 in most years, is often accompanied by painful increases in retail gasoline prices for the world’s largest energy consumers, and this year is no exception.

Another factor in play includes crude oil futures, which is the largest factor in the retail price of gas.  While West Texas Intermediate crude oil finally has settled below $100 per barrel for six of the last seven trading days, the commodity was trading above $100 per barrel for nearly a month.

The Weekend

“Consumers are beholding an annual springtime ritual: the often shocking increase in pump prices as the weather turns warmer,” said Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Although it is expected, it doesn’t make it any less painful.  The one consolation this time is the likelihood that most consumers will pay less to buy gasoline than they have in recent years.”

The Week Ahead

AAA expects the national average will peak in late March or early April between $3.55 and $3.75 per gallon. The peak is expected due to seasonal refinery maintenance and the approaching switchover to producing summer-blend gasoline that is required by May 1. In 2011, the national average peaked at $3.98 per gallon on May 5. In 2012, the national average peaked at $3.94 per gallon on April 5. In 2013, prices peaked at $3.79 on February 27, which was the earliest peak on record.

 

CURRENT AND PAST GAS PRICE AVERAGES

Regular Unleaded Gasoline (*indicates record high)

 

03/21/2014

Week Ago

Year Ago

National

$3.53

$3.51

$3.69

New Jersey

$3.37

$3.38

$3.51

Trenton

$3.41

$3.41

$3.56

Cape May County

$3.35

$3.36

$3.47

Burlington County

$3.33

$3.34

$3.45

Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon

$3.37

$3.38

$3.51

Monmouth, Ocean Counties

$3.38

$3.39

$3.50

Crude Oil

$99.50 per barrel

$98.89 per barrel

$93.03 per barrel