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    AAA Fuel Gauge Report: Earlier Switch to Summer Gas Boosts Prices

    Spring price peak is still likely to fall below levels of the past two years.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline continues to rise, hitting $3.75 on Feb. 19, the highest price on record for the calendar day, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. This is 15 cents more than one week ago, 44 cents more than one month ago and 19 cents higher than the national average price one year ago.

    The 44-cent month-to-month price spike is the sharpest since June 2009. Additionally, the unbroken streak of price increases continues, with the national average rising for 33 consecutive days, the longest since March 22-May 5, 2011, when the average rose 44 cents over 44 days. The average has risen 46 cents during the current streak, and is larger, faster and started earlier than in recent years, according to the report. The annual price run-up began in mid-February in 2011; at the end of January in 2012; and on Jan. 17 this year.

    The trend of U.S. refineries performing seasonal maintenance and switching to summer blend gasoline earlier in the year contributed to the corresponding earlier price increases, AAA said. When refineries go offline, regional supplies can decrease, making the market more sensitive to disruptions that could cause supply problems during the changeover period. The earlier schedule is a decision of the refiners and not caused by a deadline for the change to summer blend gas, which is required in certain areas.

    However, AAA still predicts that the spring peak will fall below that of the past two years.

    Once again, all 50 states saw price increases over the last week, with the highest increases occurring in Tennessee (22 cents), Arkansas (22 cents), Alabama (21 cents), South Carolina (21 cents) and Mississippi (21 cents). Month-over-month price increases were even sharper, especially in midwest, central and mountain states.

    Hawaii, California and the Northeast continue to see the highest pump prices, but the midwestern price spike pushed several states in that region into the top 10 list.

    Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported in its most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook, released Feb. 12, that retail gasoline prices this year will remain lower than in 2012. However, it revised its prediction of the yearlong national average to $3.55 per gallon, 11 cents higher than its prediction one month ago. The average in 2012 was $3.63 per gallon.

    The EIA also revised its prediction for 2014 to $3.34 per gallon, 5 cents higher than it predicted last month.

    "Although EIA expects crude oil prices to come off their current peaks, forecast regular gasoline retail prices continue to rise over the next few months to a peak of $3.73 per gallon in May 2013 because of the seasonal increase in demand and the switch from winter-to more costly summer-grade gasoline," said the EIA in a statement.

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