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National average stabilizes near recent lows

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The national average has remained near recent lows, starting the week at $2.276 per gallon according to price-tracker GasBuddy.com. While the average rise was a penny versus last week, 29 states saw prices decline, 3 were unchanged and 18 saw prices move higher.

The top five weekly moves were all increases, the top were are all located in states that have price cycling behavior: Indiana rose 12 cents, Michigan 9 cents and Ohio 7 cents. Following behind was California, which rose 5 cents, and price-cycling Kentucky, which rose 4 cents. If one were to exclude these five states from the national average, it would have resulted in a weekly decline instead of the penny increase.

While gasoline and oil prices remain generally range bound, both prices remain far higher than a year ago, when prices hit rock bottom and the national average fell to $1.699 per gallon while oil collapsed to $25 per barrel. Oil prices have since recovered due to falling oil production as a result of the low prices, with gasoline prices following.

While gasoline prices have remained somewhat tempered, the future looks less upbeat as refineries shut down portions of their plants to begin seasonal maintenance work to prepare for the craziness of the summer driving season. In addition, refiners will be transitioning to variations of cleaner burning gasoline, a recipe that will likely cause prices to rise 10-20 cents over the next month alone.

The change has already started in California, where Los Angeles and San Francisco will soon see a return to $3 per gallon gasoline as they make the transition to stringent CARB mandated gasoline. Indeed, California’s statewide average will follow shortly as it has risen to $2.88 per gallon, falling behind just Hawaii ($3.12). Washington places third at $2.73 on average, followed by Alaska ($2.67) and Washington, D.C. ($2.57).

Amongst the nation’s cheapest states to fill up are South Carolina ($2.02), Tennessee ($2.05), Alabama ($2.05), Mississippi ($2.06) and Arkansas ($2.08), thanks generally to low gasoline taxes.

Across the nation, some 10% of the nation’s stations are selling gasoline yet under $2 per gallon, a number that could be cut in half by the end of the month and likely completely disappear by Memorial Day. A year ago, for comparison, it was 10% of the nation that saw prices over $2 per gallon- a major change as the nation’s average crumbled to $1.69.

The good news for motorists, however, is that even with the expected upward swing coming nationally in the weeks ahead, is that motorists can save by shopping around- and it will pay handsomely as gas prices start to go up and stations change strategies.

Senior Petroleum Analyst, National (USA) / Midwest

Patrick has developed into the leading source for reliable and accurate information on gas price hikes. Patrick has been interviewed as a gasoline price expert hundreds of times since 2004. Based in Chicago, Patrick brings to GasBuddy all his assets to help consumers by giving reliable and accurate price forecasts, including the San Jose Mercury News dubbing Patrick "one of the nation's most accurate forecasters" in 2012.