Gasoline at Highest Price Ever for This Time of Year
CNBC Senior Commodities Correspondent & Personal Finance Correspondent
U.S. drivers are now paying more to fill up their gas tanks than they ever have at this time of year.
The national average price of retail gasoline posted its biggest one-day increase in 23 months on Friday, rising four cents to $3.46 a gallon, according to AAA. The average price has risen 13 cents -- a 4 percent increase -- in the past week.
Gasoline prices have followed in part the climb in the stock and oil prices. Oil and equities have risen sharply over the last few weeks, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 14,000 for the first time since 2007, Brent crude oil futures hit at 4-month high near $117 a barrel, while the U.S. oil price is near $98 a barrel.
Retail gasoline prices have also hit a new milestone.
"This is the highest price record for February 1st," says OPIS analyst Tom Kloza, who predicts the national average price of regular gasoline will climb a few more pennies to $3.50 a gallon this weekend.
NYMEX March RBOB gasoline futures, which help determine prices at the pump, have risen 10 percent in the past two weeks, finishing the week at $3.05 a gallon on Friday.
"Refinery issues and speculation about refinery issues has with a lot of money betting onstill higher gasoline prices," Kloza says.
Oil producer Hess announced earlier this week that it is shutting its refinery in Port Reading, N.J., by the end of February. That refinery accounts for about 7.5 percent of oil production on the East Coast at about 70,000 barrels per day. Philadelphia Energy Solutions isalso set to begin planned maintenance at its 335,000 barrel per day Philadelphia refinery.
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Traders and analysts forecast the closure and maintenance of refineries near the New York Harbor will further tighten gasoline supplies in the region. Planned maintenance in other parts of the country also add to concerns about gasoline supplies.
Meanwhile. gasoline demand is on the rise. While total U.S. gasoline supplies fell by 1 million barrels last week, gasoline demand increased by 70,000 barrels a day tothe highest level since the end of December.
Analysts say the U.S. Labor Department's upward revision to payroll data on Friday is further indication of steady economic growth and will lead to continued increases in gasoline demand. The number of non-farm jobs added in November was revised sharply higher from 161,000 to 247,000, while the figure for December was upgraded from 155,000 to 196,000.
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"Significant upward revisions for 2012 and last two months of the year in particular are showing up in the increase in gasoline demand," says John Kilduff, founder of Again Capital. "Improvement in employment is going to be supportive of gas prices."
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—By CNBC's Sharon Epperson; Follow her on Twitter: @sharon_epperson