Pump prices poised for seasonal slide

Staff Reports • Updated Jan 10, 2018 at 12:00 PM

NASHVILLE – Gas prices held relatively steady during the first seven days of the year. 

Tennessee gas prices averaged $2.28 Sunday. The state average was 2 cents more than a week ago and was 13 cents more than the same time last year. 

The most expensive gas price averages in Tennessee were in Jackson at $2.33, Nashville at $2.30 and Morristown at $2.29.

The least expensive gas price averages in Tennessee were in Chattanooga at $2.20, Clarksville-Hopkinsville at $2.22 and Jonson City at $2.27.

Prices at the pump remained elevated due to strong oil prices. West Texas Intermediate crude oil settled higher than $62 a barrel last week for the first time since December 2013 as global supply levels tighten.

The first week of the New Year is historically strong for oil prices. Then, the reality of low winter demand usually pushes them lower for the next month or two. Meanwhile, gasoline demand, measured by the Energy Information Administration, dropped significantly, contributing to a strong build in fuel availability. The phenomenon is normal this time of year, and usually leads to lower gas prices in January and February. 

“Retail prices could drop 5-15 cents in the next month and a half, while supply outpaces demand,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA. “Unfortunately, springtime is as a springboard for prices at the pump, and we may see a 40-50 cent jump by the summer. Of course, this forecast could change dramatically if there are unexpected shifts in fuel supply and/or the stock market.”

Prices normally rise in the spring as demand grows and supplies tighten. Spring is one of two times a year refineries go offline to conduct maintenance on their equipment and switch from winter to the more expensive-to-produce summer-blend gasoline. Historically, gas prices rise 30-75 cents during spring maintenance season, due to the supply reduction and summer-blend switch. Since last autumn’s maintenance season was interrupted by hurricanes, this spring is likely to be more active than usual for refineries, putting the price-hike on the higher end of that 30-75 cent scale.

Nationally, the highest average price for gasoline was Sept. 8 at $2.67; the lowest was July 5 at $2.23. In Tennessee, the highest average price was Sept. 10 at $2.60, and the lowest was July 5 at $1.99.

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