Business & Real Estate

Sacramento-area gas prices dip below $3 a gallon in time for Labor Day weekend

A man pumps gas into his dual-tank pickup truck at a 76 gas station in Los Angeles, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Analysts expect gas prices to rise above $4 a gallon due to a fire at the Richmond, Calif., refinery on Aug. 6, 2012.
A man pumps gas into his dual-tank pickup truck at a 76 gas station in Los Angeles, Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Analysts expect gas prices to rise above $4 a gallon due to a fire at the Richmond, Calif., refinery on Aug. 6, 2012. AP

It’s a winning combination for Sacramento-area motorists: stable gasoline supplies, a recently sagging crude oil market and pleasantly low wholesale fuel costs.

Taken together, those factors have pushed the average price of gas at area pumps below the $3-a-gallon threshold, the first dip under that level since April of this year.

Average at-the-pump prices, which have been falling steadily for a month, dropped nearly 13 cents over the past week to an average of $2.99 a gallon, according to Monday’s report by national gas price tracker GasBuddy.com.

That’s 37.6 cents lower than one month ago and almost 80 cents below the year-ago average.

The national average also is plunging in the run-up to the Labor Day holiday weekend. GasBuddy said the national average retail price of gas was $2.47 a gallon, down 12.8 cents from last week, a drop of 19.5 cents from last month and 96.4 cents below a year ago.

“Nationally, gas prices saw their largest weekly drop of the year,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst. “… While oil prices rallied late last week, I don’t yet expect it to impact pump prices, as they still have some catching up to do with the (previous) drop in crude oil prices.”

Allison Mac, a Los Angeles-based petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said “everything has been pointing to the Labor Day weekend. Prices have been going lower with low wholesale prices and no supply problems.”

However, Mac warned that things might level off this week.

She pointed out that wholesale gas in the region was around $1.80 a gallon, but it has swelled to $1.88 this week. And crude oil rallied on Monday, closing at $48.11 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $2.89, or nearly 6.5 percent, on the day.

For now, Sacramento motorists seem content with the lower-than-usual prices.

“I usually cuss the loudest when it gets up around $4 a gallon, but I can’t complain about this price. The longer it goes on, the better,” said Sacramentan Mike Roth, filling up his Ford Focus at the 76 station at 15th and X streets, where the cash price of unleaded regular was posted at $2.89 per gallon.

The Valero station at nearby Broadway and Riverside Boulevard posted an identical $2.89 cash price for unleaded regular on Monday, and Elk Grove resident Marlene Woods was happy to fill up her Toyota Prius at that price: “It really hasn’t been too bad this year. We had a couple of spikes this year, but when it’s down around $3 (a gallon), I feel like I’m making money with the mileage my car gets.”

GasBuddy’s Mac said that even if crude oil starts edging back up along with wholesale prices, other seasonal factors will put downward pressure on gas prices statewide.

“After Labor Day, demand drops along with car travel,” she said, adding that California refineries will start producing less costly fall/winter-blend gasoline in October.

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