Triangle Gas Prices Near Record Highs Again

Fayetteville notched a new high price for gas Easter Sunday, while the average cost of a gallon of gas in the Triangle sat just a cent away from breaking its record high — set exactly a week ago.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gasoline prices Sunday were up statewide by an average of more than 75 cents a gallon compared to last year, as metropolitan areas in central North Carolina neared or broke record fuel prices.

Fayetteville notched a new high price of $3.261 for a gallon of regular gasoline Sunday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report.

Average gas prices in the Triangle, meanwhile, lingered less than a cent away from an all-time record of $3.269, set exactly a week ago on Sunday, March 16.

The price of $3.258, however, was down from Saturday's average price of $3.265, four-hundredths of a cent away from the record.

A year ago, drivers were paying $2.513 for a gallon of gas in the Triangle and $2.491 in Fayetteville.

North Carolina's highest gas prices Sunday were found in the mountains and along the coast. Wilmington reported an average price of $3.282 a gallon, while Asheville came in with $3.275.

Nationwide, the price of gas averaged $3.264 a gallon, up from $2.579 a year earlier.

AAA officials said they expect the cost of gasoline to continue to rise in the coming months.

"We expect gasoline prices to continue their upward spiral between now and Memorial Day," David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said. "Refineries retool in the spring for burning cleaner summer-blend gasoline and regular maintenance at a time when driving usually increases. That switchover has not yet occurred, since Easter this is about two weeks earlier than last year."

Parsons, though, doubted that prices would reach $4 a gallon in North Carolina, saying drivers will likely alter their habits and spend less time behind the wheel as prices rise.

Spikes in gas prices are directly related to the economic slowdown, the weakening dollar and speculation in investment markets, Parsons said.

"The latest spike prices are not fueled by either demand for gasoline or tight markets," he said. "Instead, it is driven by unprecedented levels of investment in crude oil and gasoline futures as a hedge against the falling dollar and a safe haven from sliding prices in other investments, such as real estate, equities and bonds."

Economic activity late this week, though, indicated that oil futures might not be such a safe haven for investors after all.

The price of a barrel of oil fell sharply this week, dropping about 9 percent, after setting a new trading record of $111.80 Monday.

"(Investors) seem to be coming round to the notion that the deterioration in the U.S. (economic) picture cannot be ignored on the pretext that commodities are a 'weak dollar play' or an 'inflation hedge', and thus immune from downward pressure," said Edward Meir, an analyst at MF Global UK Ltd., in a research note.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery fell 70 cents to settle at $101.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Thursday after sliding to as low as $98.65 earlier. It was the first dip by a front-month oil contract under $100 since March 5. On Wednesday, the expiring April contract fell $4.94 a barrel to settle at $104.48.

An unexpected outage at a Houston refinery and an advance by Wall Street caused April gasoline futures to rise 4.48 cents to $2.6051 a gallon on the Nymex Thursday, pulling oil off its earlier lows.

Most financial markets in the U.S. and other countries closed for Good Friday.

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Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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