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Gasoline prices edge down — but are still high

The new normal for gasoline prices continues to plague American consumers.

Over the last week, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. stabilized, down 1.4 cents to $3.462 a gallon after jumping nearly 6 cents a gallon the previous week, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of service stations.

But that’s 22.6% higher than the old record for this week of the year, which was an average of $2.823 a gallon set in 2007. For the same week in 2010, the U.S. average was $2.817.

The financial burden in California is even greater. Although the state’s average for a gallon of regular gasoline fell 0.6 of a penny to $3.858, that was 22.7% higher than the previous record for this time of year: $3.143, first set in 2007 and repeated in 2010.

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Analysts say that world demand for refined fuels is keeping U.S. gasoline prices high, in part because the U.S. is exporting record amounts of fuel. In addition, U.S. refineries also are processing more diesel, at the expense of gasoline production, to meet that global demand.

U.S. drivers are poised to shatter the old record for gasoline spending of $449 billion in 2008 by shelling out an estimated $491 billion this year.

“It’s like we just can’t ever get a break,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst for PFGBest Research. “This has really been a bad year for fuel prices.”

There has been some hope that the end of hostilities in Libya might quickly bring down world oil prices, “but I just don’t see it happening,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, a website that tracks the prices of fuel.

Oil got a boost from signs of economic growth in the U.S. and Asia and from hopes that a solution to the European debt crisis was near.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude climbed to its highest level in more than two months, up $3.95 to $91.35 a barrel. On the ICE Futures Exchange in London, European benchmark Brent North Sea crude rose $1.82 to $111.38 a barrel.

ron.white@latimes.com


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