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Gasoline prices at high for the year

Motorists are well down the road to higher pump prices as warmer weather and the driving season approach.
Conoco Phillips Refinery
In this March 5, 2010 photo, an overview of the ConocoPhillips oil refinery is seen in Rodeo, Calif. Oil prices headed higher toward $82 a barrel Monday, March 8, extending gains from last week amid signs the global economy may be improving. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)Ben Margot / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Motorists are well down the road to higher pump prices as warmer weather and the driving season approach.

Average retail gasoline prices, continuing a surge that started last month, have now matched their 2010 high on the way to prices that many analysts believe will top $3 per gallon this spring.

The nationwide average retail gasoline price rose 0.6 cents Monday to $2.753 per gallon, virtually identical to the high water mark of $2.7583 reached on Jan. 14, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

Prices have risen 9.2 cents in the last month and are now 80.6 cents higher than levels of a year ago.

The Energy Information Administration, which is among those predicting $3 gallon gas this spring, will release figures on nationwide retail gasoline prices later Monday.

The jump in retail prices follows an increase in wholesale gasoline prices. April contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 1.82 cents to settle at $2.2892 per gallon.

An 18 percent rise in oil prices over the past month that pushed crude near a 2010 high of $83.95 per barrel is also boosting gas prices.

Part of the increase in gasoline prices is seasonal. Prices typically go up in the spring as refiners switch to more expensive blends of gasoline. Demand usually picks up as motorists emerge from hibernation and hit the road.

But things may be different this year. The U.S. remains well supplied with gasoline and oil, so there is no prospect of a supply shortage driving up prices. Also, the high unemployment rate and uncertainty about the economic recovery have kept demand for gasoline about where it was a year ago.

Benchmark crude for April delivery rose 37 cents to settle at $81.87 a barrel on the Nymex. Earlier in the session, it peaked at $82.41.

In other trading in April contracts, heating oil rose 0.81 cent to settle at $2.1055 a gallon. Natural gas fell 6.6 cents to settle at $4.527 per 1,000 cubic feet. During the trading day, natural gas touched a new 52-week low at $4.458 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude gained 58 cents to settle at $80.47 on the ICE futures exchange.