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State, U.S. Gas Prices Decline for 3rd Week

Times Staff Writer

Retail gasoline prices in California and nationwide fell for the third week in a row, but the pace of the decline has been minuscule compared with the drop in crude oil prices, which hit a four-month low Monday.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in California slipped 1.5 cents to $2.115 a gallon in the seven days ending Monday, according to the weekly U.S. Energy Department survey.

The price in Los Angeles averaged $2.112, down 1.6 cents from the previous seven days. San Francisco’s average price fell 1.9 cents to $2.146 but remained the highest among metropolitan cities surveyed.

Nationwide, the average was $1.63, down 1.9 cents.

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Last week, California Energy Commission Chairman William J. Keese said gasoline prices should be falling quickly, adding that the commission would be concerned if they weren’t below $2 a gallon by last weekend in most of the state.

Energy Commission spokesman Rob Schlichting said Monday that “the commission’s going to be continuing to follow this.”

David Fogarty, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn., an oil industry trade group, said that “how far and how fast” pump prices fall “will be determined by the marketplace.”

Wholesale gas prices in California have fallen more sharply than retail prices -- to below $1 a gallon -- and the price of crude has been on a downward course.

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On Monday, near-month oil futures fell 66 cents to $27.96 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where on Feb. 27 the price reached $39.99, a high since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The price of crude is a key indicator for gasoline prices, because the raw material accounts for about half of the cost to make motor fuel. Changes in the cost of crude can take weeks to be reflected in retail prices.

Even as crude prices have fallen 30% in a little more than a month, it has taken three weeks for U.S. gasoline prices to decline 10 cents a gallon, or 5.7%, from their record $1.728 on March 17.

In California, gas prices have declined 3 cents in three weeks. They are 1.3% lower than they were at their peak of $2.145 on March 17.

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