msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/21/2005 12:16:30 PM ET 2005-11-21T17:16:30

Retail gas prices continue to plunge across the country, dropping 18 cents in the past two weeks, according to a survey released Sunday.

The weighted average price for all three grades declined to $2.27 a gallon on Nov. 18, said Trilby Lundberg, who publishes the semimonthly Lundberg Survey of 7,000 gas stations around the country.

Pump prices have been falling as U.S. gasoline supplies have increased. Two major forces are at work increasing gasoline stocks, according to the latest analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Part of the gains have come as refineries shut down by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have come back on line. As of last week, refiners were operating at about 86 percent of capacity. That's up from a storm-damaged low of just under 70 percent. But it's still below pre-hurricane highs of 97 percent  capacity.

The EIA also noted that gasoline supplies have increased due to a surge in imports, especially from European stockpiles -- which were opened up to U.S. suppliers in response to the hurricanes' impact.

Lower crude oil prices have also helped pull gas prices lower.

According to the latest Lundberg survey, self-serve regular averaged $2.24 a gallon nationwide. The price for midgrade was $2.34, while premium-grade hit $2.44.

The lowest average price in the nation for regular unleaded among the stations surveyed was $1.94 a gallon in Wichita, Kan. The highest price was $2.64 in Honolulu.

Declining gas prices could help sales for retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., whose lower-income customers are less likely to shop if high fuel prices make driving to the store too expensive. In August, Wal-Mart posted its weakest quarterly increase in profit in four years as gasoline prices rose.

But on Saturday the nation's largest retailer said that customer demand for key categories including electronics, toys, and clothing already looks strong.

Crude oil prices have been steadily falling since reaching a record in August.

On Friday, U.S. crude oil settled down 20 cents at $56.14 a barrel after falling as low as $55.40, the lowest since June 15 and about $15 below the August record.

But even with supply outstripping demand, OPEC oil exporters will not consider changing output at next month's meeting unless crude prices fall rapidly, ministers from the group said on Saturday.

(Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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