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Gasoline prices climb in California, U.S.

Retail fuel prices continued their slow ascent in California and across the nation over the last week, the Energy Department said Monday.

The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in California climbed 2.8 cents to $2.336, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of filling stations. Nationally, the increase was 1.4 cents to $2.051 a gallon. Compared with the year-earlier price of gasoline, the California average was down $1.438 a gallon and the U.S. average was down $1.334 a gallon.

Since the beginning of the year, the average gas cost has risen 46 cents in California and 36 cents nationally, partly because of supply constraints. Part of that rise also can be attributed to the fact that crude oil futures have increased, with a lot of fits and starts, from barrel prices in the low $40 range since the beginning of the year, said Doug MacIntyre, a senior oil market analyst at the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration.

Gasoline prices are being bolstered, he said, by signs that Americans may have cut as much fuel consumption as they can. Energy Department statistics indicate that U.S. driver demand for fuel is holding steady for the first time in several months, he said.

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Demand for other distillates such as diesel fuel was down 7.2% over the four-week period that ended April 3, MacIntyre said, reflecting the slump in freight movement and in industrial and agricultural activity.

The continuing global recession took its toll on oil prices again Monday. Crude oil futures fell $2.19 a barrel to $50.05 after a report from the International Energy Agency said that global oil demand in 2009 could fall to its lowest level in five years as world economies continue to flounder.

Oil traders are also losing their apprehensions over the effect of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and farther out to sea after two recent and largely successful rescues of crews after their ships had been seized in attacks.

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ron.white@latimes.com


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