Gas prices spike sooner than normal this year

Kai Ryssdal: The headline economic number of the day is four-tenths of 1 percent. That's how much retail sales bumped up last month. The Commerce Department says we spent more on electronics and garden supplies, in particular.

Also? Gas. We're paying more at the pump for a whole lot of reasons, most of which we can do nothing about. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer explains.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: The Energy Department says the average price for a gallon of regular gas is now $3.52. We’re  used to seeing prices go up during the busy summer driving season. But now?

Tom Kloza is chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. He says prices are edging up about a month earlier than usual.

Tom Kloza: We always have a little bit of a violent spring in terms of gasoline prices.  This year, they’ll be a little bit more violent than normal.

Some of the volatile pricing stems from fears of violence in the Mideast. Iran is threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz.

Ben Montalbano is an oil industry analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation. He says that would choke off oil supplies.

Ben Montalbano: Most Saudi exports, most Iraqi exports, Iranian exports, Kuwaiti exports. Those would essentially all be halted.

And oil prices would hit the stratosphere. That’s gotten Wall Street’s attention. Speculators are hoarding gas, driving up the price in the process, betting they can sell their gas stashes and make a killing when prices go up.

Oil analyst Stephen Schork edits the Schork Report.

Stephen Schork: Speculators own approximately 90 million barrels of gasoline. Speculators have never owned this much gasoline.

But there are other things at play. Global demand for oil is up somewhat, and some East Coast refineries are closing, meaning more of the region’s gas has to be imported.

Yep, all these things are out of our control. Except, of course, we could always drive less.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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One of the choices we have as consumers is to seek out alternatives when we don't like the treatment we receive from business. In this case, gas prices are rising to a sufficient level of pain, we need to move to alternatives. Whether it's natural gas, electric, or my favorite -- E85, we consumers can be a powerful force for change.
I don't like the notion of corn ethanol as an advanced fuel or as the solution to our energy problem, but there has been significant progress on 2nd & 3rd generation ethanol processes recently. With higher demand for E85 or any of the mid-grade blends (E20, E30, etc) that can be run in FlexFuel vehicles, we can change this portion of our energy landscape. Check the market price of ethanol -vs- gasoline on CBOT for a look at cost drivers of your fuel of choice.

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