Gasoline prices climb in California and the nation

The relentless rise in retail gasoline prices continued over the last week, the U.S. Energy Department said, with some analysts predicting that fuel prices could test record highs.

In California, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline climbed 4.4 cents to $4.205. That was $1.115 a gallon higher than a year earlier, but still considerably short of the record $4.588 set in June 2008, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey of fuel retailers, which was released Monday.

The national average climbed 5.3 cents to $3.844 a gallon. That was up 98.4 cents from the year-earlier price. The record high was $4.114 in July 2008.

Pump prices are close enough to record levels to make some analysts edgy about the possibility of new high marks.

"A lot of people are saying that it feels like we're back in 2008. But this is different," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at PFGBest Research. "Now, we see oil doesn't have to be near the high mark of $147 or $148 a barrel for gasoline to be closing in on a new record, and we're going to come close to new records."

In six states, gasoline prices are averaging more than $4 a gallon, according to a daily fuel price survey for AAA compiled by the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. They are Hawaii ($4.484), California ($4.203), Alaska ($4.179), Illinois ($4.073), Connecticut ($4.068) and New York ($4.018).

Oil futures fell Monday on concerns that high prices could hurt the economic rebound around the world and dampen demand for petroleum. The U.S. benchmark futures contract, West Texas Intermediate crude, fell $2.54, or 2.3%, to $107.12 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude lost $1.84 to $121.61 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Speaking in Kuwait, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Ibrahim Naimi said that the global economic recovery "remains patchy; in many countries unemployment remains at unacceptable levels." Kuwait Oil Minister Sheik Ahmed Fahd al Ahmed al Sabah said: "At these high price levels, spending on oil imports could represent a significant economic burden."

The London-based Center for Global Energy Studies said in a report that OPEC has failed to replace all the oil lost from Libya in the continuing fight between rebels and supporters of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi "leaving supplies down by 1 million barrels a day." The Center said that oil producers were risking a repeat of the spike in oil prices in 2008, which helped worsen the global recession.

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