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    Pump Prices Likely to Keep Climbing

    But consumers keep driving, as a record 41.1 million will travel this holiday weekend.

    NEW YORK -- Americans taking to the highway over this July Fourth holiday face gasoline prices that are higher than a year ago, and likely to climb further by the end of summer, according to a report by Bloomberg.

    In four of the past five years, the U.S. pump price peaked in late summer or early fall, according to Energy Department data. Below-normal fuel inventories and the possibility that hurricanes will disrupt refineries and pipelines may cause gasoline to top the record set last month, when prices touched $3.227 a gallon on average nationwide.

    "They should be heading back up to the high we saw several weeks ago, and possibly drifting higher," Joseph Stanislaw, senior energy adviser for Deloitte & Touche LLP, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg from Boston.

    The national average retail price for regular gasoline is $2.975 a gallon, AAA said on its Web site. That's 12 cents higher than a year ago. Prices have fallen 7.8 percent from the all-time high on May 23, according to the news report.

    Stanislaw said he expects prices to rise to about $3.50 a gallon this summer, and possibly exceed $4 a gallon if a hurricane strikes the U.S. Gulf Coast, the most important region for the nation's oil production, imports and refining.

    Higher-than-normal prices haven't caused people to reduce driving, though, according to Energy Department data. Gasoline demand is up 1.5 percent from a year ago to 9.5 million barrels a day, based on the four-week average. Demand normally rises by between 1.5 percent and 2 percent a year, Bloomberg said.

    "I don't think people are giving price a consideration," said Robert Spiegel, vice president of Tuxedo, New York-based fuel wholesaler SOS Fuels, which supplies about 100 filling stations. "I am experiencing a lot of fuel being sold.'"

    For this week's July Fourth holiday, a record 41.1 million vacationers in the U.S. will travel, according to AAA, the largest U.S. motoring club. About 34.7 million people will take to the nation's highways by car or light truck, 0.7 percent more than last year.

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