Gasoline prices have familiar look as summer nears

NEW YORK (AP) – The price of gasoline should look familiar to many drivers this Memorial Day. For the third year in a row, the national average will be within a penny or two of $3.64 per gallon.

Steady gasoline prices are largely the result of crude oil prices that have remained steady too, as rising output in the U.S. and elsewhere have offset declining production in OPEC countries such as Iran and Libya.

The national average masks big price changes in some regions, though. Drivers in the middle of the country are paying far less than they were last year, while drivers on the coasts are paying more.

Analysts expect the national average price to slide lower through the beginning of the summer.

Oil prices moved up to around $104 a barrel Friday ahead of U.S. home sales data and the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for July delivery was up 22 cents to $103.96 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Nymex, the contract fell 33 cents to close at $103.74.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, added 16 cents to $110.52 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Traders are waiting for a U.S. Commerce Department report on sales of new homes in April, expected later Friday, which may show a healthy American economy. That could help lift energy prices.

Oil reached a one-month high Wednesday of $104.07 a barrel after a U.S. Energy Information Administration report showed that U.S. crude supplies dropped a bigger-than-expected 7.2 million barrels in the week ended May 16.

“It seems that oil demand has picked up recently as crude oil stocks started to decline after reaching record high levels in previous weeks,” said Myrto Sokou of Sucden Financial Research in London. “The recent solid U.S. economic figures could verify this uptrend in the U.S. economy.”

Meanwhile, tensions are continuing in Ukraine, where on Thursday the deadliest raid yet on government troops by pro-Russia insurgents killed 16 soldiers. The possibility of greater Western sanctions against Russia for its role in the crisis has underpinned oil prices.

On Friday, nevertheless, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would respect the outcome of Sunday’s presidential elections in Ukraine.

Holidays will keep markets closed on Monday in the U.S. and Britain.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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