Gasoline pump prices should stay in a fairly narrow range this summer, putting less strain on family budgets for summer driving trips and commutes to work.
The national average for a gallon of unleaded regular was $2.715 Monday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That's down almost a penny from a week ago and 17.8 cents higher than a year ago.
In its weekly report on pump prices released Monday, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said the national average for retail gasoline was $2.718 for a gallon of regular. California drivers paid the most, at $3.11 a gallon, while motorists in Gulf Coast states paid the least at an average of $2.56 a gallon.
Analysts don't expect a big change in pump prices in the next four to six weeks unless something unexpected happens, like a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico that could crimp supplies or a big jump in oil prices.
"If you're going to see a rally or a big movement as opposed to a crawl either way, it's going to have to be event-driven and right now there's no event to drive it," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "I think we're looking at a very, very sort of placid picture for at least through July."
Most analysts say demand is moderate at best this summer amid ample gasoline supplies as consumers curb spending because of worries about jobs and the pace of the economic recovery.
Consumers may get a better picture of where the economy is headed this week as major companies begin reporting their second-quarter earnings. If earnings come in weaker than expected, that could affect oil prices and, in turn, the price at the pump, PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said.
"So much of the price of oil really is based on the perception of economic recovery," Flynn said. "In a way, the price of oil is really being held hostage to our economic mood."
Oil prices retreated Monday as traders awaited earnings from aluminum giant Alcoa Inc., which reports after the markets close.
A stronger dollar also hurt oil prices. Oil and other commodities are priced in dollars, so a stronger dollar makes them more expensive for foreign buyers.
Benchmark crude lost $1.14 to settle at $74.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In other Nymex trading, heating oil fell 3.44 cents to settle at $1.9913 a gallon, gasoline dropped 4.20 cents to settle at $2.0280 a gallon and natural gas gave up 1.4 cents to settle at $4.388 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent crude fell $1.05 to settle at $74.37 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.