Gasoline prices flatten below $2.60 a gallon

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 4:12 PM

The world's biggest oil producers seem content with the price of oil and consumers may be just as satisfied, at least for now, with the prices they are paying at the pump.

OPEC prepared to meet in Angola, with oil ministers hinting Monday that they would leave supply levels where they are rather than tightening quotas again in an attempt to boost prices.

Demand for gasoline and other fuels remains very weak, so they may have little choice.

Retail gas prices have flattened in the U.S. below $2.60, a lot more than motorists were paying last year during a worsening economic crises, but still well below prices two years ago.

The demand for gasoline has been so low in part because of the employment picture. Unemployment is hovering around 10 percent, meaning daily the commute is no longer happening for millions of households.

What happens next as far as energy prices is a murky picture.

As analysts Stephen Schork pointed out Monday, either crude prices must fall, or the price for gasoline and other fuels must rise.

The refiners that make gasoline have been shutting down facilities because they are losing money. Crude prices, according to energy experts, are higher than they should be and refiners can't recoup those costs by raising the price of the fuel they sell.

If the trend of relatively high crude prices and low demand for fuel continues, more refinery shutdowns could tighten gas supplies and drive pump prices higher.

There is a good chance that won't happen before crude prices fall, many energy experts believe.

On Monday, strengthening dollar helped drive crude prices lower. A stronger dollar makes crude more costly because contracts are priced in U.S. currency.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 70 cents to settle at $73.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil has traded around $75 since August, a remarkably stable stretch for a commodity that has had enormous price swings in the past few years.

Gasoline prices that peaked at the end of October, however, have been edging downward ever since.

Retail prices were flat at $2.59 per gallon Monday, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Prices have fallen 1.3 cents in the last week, and are 10 cents below the peak on Oct. 31.

In other Nymex trading for January contracts, benchmark crude fell 89 cents to settle at $72.47 per barrel the final day of trading. Heating oil fell 1.15 cents to settle at $1.9452 while gasoline fell 2.57 cents to settle at $1.8691. Natural gas fell 11.3 cents to settle at $5.669 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery fell 76 cents to settle at $72.99 on the ICE Futures exchange.

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Associated Press writers Adam Schreck Luanda, Angola, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.


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