By Chris Kahn Associated Press
NEW YORK — Gasoline prices climbed Friday for the 24th straight day as service stations pass along the rising cost of oil.
The national average for gasoline hit $3.741 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That’s an increase of 46.5 cents per gallon since the start of 2012. Gasoline has never been so high this time of year, and analysts say it could reach a record of $4.25 per gallon by late April. Last year’s peak price was $3.985 per gallon on May 4, and the record was $4.11 per gallon in July 2008.
Gasoline has surged as its primary component, oil, gets more expensive. Oil prices have climbed 10 percent since January on fears that world supplies could be reduced as the West confronts Iran over its nuclear program.
Iran, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, faces a European embargo and other international sanctions as the West tries to force its nuclear facilities to open to inspectors. Some experts say Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, though the country denies it.
The recent jump in oil began to stall late this week. With prices near last year’s highs, traders say they’re increasingly worried about the consumer’s ability to pay higher prices.
“These prices are beginning to bite,” independent oil trader Jim Ritterbusch said. “We’re at the point where people are getting concerned of further economic recovery, not just in the U.S. but much of the globe.”
U.S. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude, which is used to price much of the oil produced in the Midwest, fell by $2.14 to finish at $106.70 per barrel on Friday in New York. Brent crude, imported by many U.S. refineries that make gasoline, fell by $2.55 to end at $123.65 per barrel in London.
In other energy trading, heating oil fell 7 cents to finish at $3.20 per gallon and gasoline futures fell 8 cents to end at $3.27 per gallon. Natural gas futures rose 2 cents to finish at $2.48 per 1,000 cubic feet.