CHICAGO -- The national average retail price of gasoline heads into May at its highest point in more than three years, with forecasts calling for higher summer prices as well.
On April 30, the national average hit $2.81 per gallon, its highest level since November 2014, according to AAA, Heathrow, Fla. In 2014, gasoline prices averaged $3.34 for the year, after peaking at $3.70 that April and hitting a low of $2.25 per gallon in December. While AAA does not expect 2018 to be a repeat, the year-over-year comparison with May 2017 is not favorable. At this same time last year, the national average was 43 cents per gallon (CPG) lower.
AAA expects gasoline prices to continue to rise possibly another 10 CPG through the Memorial Day weekend before they stabilize in the summer (barring any demand spikes or other factors).
States with the largest weekly increase in their average retail price were Missouri and Delaware, both up 9 CPG, followed by Iowa (8 CPG) and Utah, Georgia, New Jersey, Wyoming, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wisconsin (each up 7 CPG).
The highest retail averages April 30 were mainly on the West Coast, led by Hawaii and California, both at $3.61 per gallon, followed by Washington ($3.29), Alaska ($3.25), Nevada ($3.23), Oregon ($3.19), Utah ($3.09), Idaho ($3.09), Pennsylvania ($3.02) and Connecticut ($2.95).
Boston-based GasBuddy said the national retail average has increased 5 CPG for two weeks straight, according to its survey of 135,000 gas stations. It cited higher oil prices for the increase.
Despite gas prices closing in on their short-team peak around Memorial Day, they should also trend higher for summer 2018, said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.
“With refineries well positioned for the summer months, we’re looking for some relief by mid-June, but do expect this summer to remain one of the priciest in the last few years as average prices climb close to the psychological $3-per-gallon barrier," he said.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has forecast a $2.74-per-gallon national retail average for regular-grade gasoline this summer, or the months of April through September. This is 26 CPG higher than summer 2017 but 15 CPG lower than the national average for the summers of 2013 to 2017, the agency said. Its forecasted price for full-year 2018 is $2.64 per gallon, which would result in the average household paying $190 more on gasoline in 2018 vs. 2017. That said, this would still be about $130 less than each household paid for gasoline in 2014.
The EIA expects gasoline consumption for summer 2018 to average 9.6 million barrels per day, up 0.2% from 2017. It projects highway travel to rise 1.3% in summer 2018 vs. 2017, but this should be offset somewhat by an estimated 1.2% increase in the U.S. vehicle fleet’s fuel efficiency.