Motorists traveling during the Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend will find gasoline prices slightly higher than they were at the same time last year.
On Wednesday, the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report showed the national average price for a gallon of self-service, regular unleaded gas was $3.43, compared to $3.35 on Nov. 21, 2011.
In Illinois, the statewide average price Wednesday was $3.54, compared to $3.46 on the same date last year. In the St. Louis Metro East area, the average price was $3.38, up 14 cents from the price of $3.24 a year ago. Those prices jumped by 4 to 10 cents from Tuesday.
However, Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for the AAA Auto Club of Missouri, noted that the average statewide price in Illinois just a month ago was $3.65, so prices as of Tuesday had dropped about 15 cents per gallon over the last month. That was before Wednesday's increases.
Meanwhile, Missouri is enjoying the lowest gas prices of any state in the nation, Right said. The statewide average price Wednesday was $3.14, up 6 cents from $3.08 on Nov. 21, 2011. The average price for the St. Louis metro area had been $3.08 on Tuesday but jumped to $3.22 on Wednesday, a 21-cent increase from the price of $3.01 on the same date last year.
Although gas prices generally remain slightly higher for this year's holiday than last, the differences are smaller than were seen during holidays earlier this year, such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
"We've been paying higher prices this year than probably any year prior on a day-to-day basis -- more this year than ever," Right said. "But the price has come down in the last three weeks. It's getting back to where it was last year."
The recent decrease may be attributed to several factors, he said.
"There is less demand, and now the conversion from summer fuel to winter fuel generally lessens the cost of the product," Right said. "Of course, it's a constant turmoil as to whether the (gross domestic product) will increase or decrease; depending on the bear and bulls on Wall Street, that often will set the direction for crude oil, and gas prices follow."
He noted the prices for crude oil are relatively low compared to last year. On Tuesday, a barrel of crude oil was selling for $89 on the commodities market, while the price on the same date last year was $96.
That's just the reverse of wholesale gasoline prices, Right said. On Tuesday, wholesale gas was selling for $2.85 a gallon, compared to $2.49 the year before.
"I just think it's an anomaly," he said.
Right warned that the current turmoil in the Middle East, including the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, could drive oil prices up.
"We had a noticeable increase of about $2 a barrel in crude oil (Monday)," he said. "That's most accredited to the fear factor, and that can affect oil markets in New York. They don't produce any oil to speak of out of Israel or the Gaza Strip, but there is a lot of oil produced in that area."
AAA is predicting that 43.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving weekend, which began Wednesday evening and runs through Sunday night. That's an increase of 0.07 percent from last year's number, and while it includes travelers who will be using airplane and trains, about 90 percent of Americans will be traveling by motor vehicle. This year marks the fourth straight year of increasing Thanksgiving holiday travel, which fell by 25 percent in 2008.
Right noted that the average round-trip for this year's holiday travelers, including those who are flying, will be 588 miles.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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