Prices should continue to rise in the next few weeks on strong demand and supply problems caused by the transition to cleaner-burning gasoline mixtures as summer approaches, said Trilby Lundberg, who publishes the semimonthly Lundberg Survey of 7,000 gas stations across the country.
"There are not any gas price factors that indicate anywhere but up," Lundberg said.
The average retail price for all three grades increased 12.74 cents to $2.13 per gallon between March 4 and March 18, according to survey results released Sunday.
The most popular grade - self-serve regular - was priced at $2.10 a gallon, while customers paid $2.20 for mid-grade. Premium averaged $2.29 a gallon for the period.
That is the largest price hike since the run-up to May 21, 2004, when prices hit a previous record of $2.10, Lundberg said.
Prices reflect sharp hikes in the cost of crude oil in recent weeks, Lundberg said. A barrel of light, sweet crude for April delivery was quoted at $56.75, up 3 cents, in electronic trading just before Monday's opening on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"I do not think this is the end of the crude oil price jump," Lundberg said. "Even if crude oil prices don't rise further, it's very likely gasoline prices will continue to rise, at least short term."
Seasonal changes in the formula used to produce cleaner gas mixtures and building demand also will contribute to higher prices in the weeks ahead, she said.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed last week to boost its output quota by 500,000 barrels a day, or 1.9 percent. Members are already producing above their quotas.
lowest gas price in the nation among stations surveyed by Lundberg over the past two weeks was $1.91 for regular unleaded in Newark, N.J. The highest price was $2.34 in Honolulu, Hawaii.