Gas prices rise for 48th day, but oil sells off

Gasoline prices rose Monday for the 48th straight day with prices now up nearly two-thirds since the beginning of the year even as demand from motorists remains weak.

Yet the oil prices that influence what you pay at the pump are taking a breather from a three-month rally, as benchmark crude for July delivery fell $1.42 to settle at $70.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday, it fell 64 cents to settle at $72.04.

The good news is that prices may be peaking in next couple of days. Wholesale gasoline prices in the Chicago area, which serves the upper Great Lakes, have fallen about 30 cents a gallon in just 10 days, said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. Gas prices in the region have been more expensive than much of the rest of the country.

More evidence we are nearing a peak: Drivers paid more for gasoline for the seventh week in a row, but the 5-cent per gallon rise in the average pump price over the last week was the smallest increase since early May, the Energy Department said Monday.

The national price for regular unleaded gasoline averaged $2.67 a gallon, down $1.41 from a year ago, the department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly survey of service stations.

Crude's upward track for most of the year has been mirrored by the declining value of the dollar. That's because crude futures are bought and sold in U.S. currency. Crude gets cheaper for many buyers as the dollar falls.

That has brought a lot of money into the market in recent months, yet as could be expected with the dollar gaining strength for a second straight day Monday, crude prices are falling.

Prices at the pump rose 0.6 cents to $2.669 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Services. Prices are a nickel above where they were a week ago and 30.8 cents above month-ago levels, but remain $1.408 below year ago levels.

Consumers are now paying about $1 billion a day for gasoline compared with about $600 million a day over New Year's weekend and $1.5 billion a day or more a year ago, according to Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

The more than 60% increase in prices so far this year, Kloza said. Gas prices also rose 48 straight days in 2007.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for July delivery fell 2.9 cents to $2.0142 a gallon and heating oil fell 3.9 cents to $1.7986. Natural gas for July delivery rose 33.5 cents to $4.192 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent prices fell $1.60 to $69.32 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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