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Gas prices fuel holiday cheer

Year-end relief not uncommon, one analyst says

– For some Hoosiers, the price of gas these days may seem like the holidays arrived early.

That’s especially true in Fort Wayne, where prices have steadily dropped to the $3-a-gallon range and even dipped below that at several stations on the southeast side of town late this week.

With a high supply, a cheaper blend of gasoline and refineries in the northeastern U.S. beginning to operate at normal levels after Superstorm Sandy, experts say the prices are no surprise.

And there’s no indication they’ll shoot back up as Christmas approaches.

“It’s not uncommon to see gas prices coming down incrementally at this time of year,” said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for the website GasBuddy.com.

“The direction we’re seeing is pretty consistent with fourth-quarter historical patterns.

“As we get into the new year, we can expect the prices to increase.”

According to GasBuddy.com, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Fort Wayne was $3.12 on Friday. The AAA website FuelGaugeReport.AAA.com had it higher, at $3.23 a gallon.

Both prices were well below the state averages listed on the websites: $3.20 a gallon on GasBuddy.com; $3.24 a gallon on the AAA website.

The national average Friday was $3.34 a gallon, according to AAA.

A year ago today, gas prices in Fort Wayne averaged $3.28 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to the AAA site.

“Part of (the decrease) is because we’re not seeing any supply chain interruptions right now,” said Nick Jarmusz, a spokesman for AAA.

“Prices have been high all year, and we had successive issues, like Superstorm Sandy, that have affected gas prices, but most have been pretty much resolved.”

As to the factors that have contributed to lower prices, Laskoski and others pointed to an increase in the U.S. Department of Energy’s gasoline inventory, Midwestern driving habits in the wintertime and a “winter-blend” gasoline that’s cheaper to produce.

Most people are just driving from home to work, according to Laskoski. Coupled with cheaper gas and high inventory, prices were bound to decrease.

“(The gas) is cheaper, and then consumer demand is unremarkable,” he said. “Those two things combined are what bring prices down in the fourth quarter.”

And while there is a fear that gas prices tends to go up during holidays, Laskoski said that does not typically happen this time of year.

He said gas prices during the Thanksgiving Day holiday – a time that requires travel for many – stayed flat or even decreased, which he added is typical.

So, barring a disaster – either political or natural or an event that could disrupt pipelines – there’s no huge spike coming to greet holiday travelers come Dec. 24 or 25, experts said.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been paying high prices for gas all year, and even with the decrease, there’s some sobering news coming for Americans as they ring out 2012.

“The numbers are going to show that Americans paid more for gas this year than any other year,” Laskoski said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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