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Does jump at pump mean $4 gas is near?

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 06:23 PM
TAMPA -

If it seems gas prices increase every time you pass a convenience store, you may not be far off.

Pump prices have surged 23 cents per gallon in Florida in the past week, hitting $3.38 a gallon this morning, according to the AAA gasoline price report.

Tampa saw an even larger rise in prices, up 26 cents a gallon to an average of $3.35. That still leaves the Tampa Bay area with the second cheapest gas among the state's metropolitan areas, behind only Jacksonville, where gas is $3.34 a gallon, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.

Gas prices tend to be slightly lower in cities near major ports because it costs less to get gas to retailers, she said.

Folks in the West Palm Beach area are paying the most for gas in the state at $3.48 a gallon.

The rising gas prices are taking some of the bloom from Virginia Houser's floral business, hitting the wholesale and retail sides of the business.

She's paying another $15 every two days for gas to deliver arrangements, a cost that for now comes off the bottom line.

"We just have to eat it," said Houser, owner of Downtown's Florist.

On top of that, wholesalers tack on a fuel surcharge, she said.

Houser plans to absorb the increase for now but may have to raise delivery charges for customers outside the South Tampa and downtown Tampa areas if gas hits $4 a gallon.

Drivers in other parts of the country saw a slightly smaller increase than Florida motorists.

Nationwide, gas prices spiraled up 20 cents in the past week, according to AAA, with most of the jump on Thursday and Friday.

Prices are still climbing. The cost of a regular unleaded gas went up 1.4 cents per gallon, to $3.37, between Sunday and this morning, according to AAA.

Last Monday, the average across the country was $3.17 a gallon.

That's particularly worrisome for motorists because the leapfrogging prices come at a time of year when the cost is usually lower than late spring and summer. The national average is the highest ever for this time of year, and drivers typically see gas costs go up heading into the traditional summer driving season.

Every year since 2000, gasoline has been 52 cents a gallon higher by May than in February. If that holds true this year, motorists will be looking at gas in the $3.90 range in a couple of months.

The rise is being pushed by soaring bids on crude oil with increases lubricated by tumult in the Middle East, mainly in Libya, where the typical daily production of 1.6 million barrels a day fell to 600,000.

Even as other oil producing countries make up the reduction from Libya, the unrest is spreading and making oil buyers jumpy because no one can predict how long the turmoil will last, Brady said.

"There really is no answer to that. There's no way to tell when this will end," she said.

The price of crude resumed its rise today, breaching $98 a barrel as Libya's violent power struggle continued to disrupt crude output.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for April delivery was up 33 cents to $98.21 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Today's price boosted Friday's close of $97.88 a barrel. Last week, crude rose $11.68.

The pump price goes up about 2.5 cents for every $1 rise in crude prices, the National Association of Convenience Stores said. For every quarter increase in gas prices, $3 billion more flows out of customers' pockets nationwide.

In a 2008 survey by the association, customers said they would change their driving habits when gas topped $3.70 per gallon. The survey was done when gas last passed $4 per gallon.


Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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