Motorists can expect fairly steady pump prices

Motorists heading out on vacation in the next month should expect gasoline prices to remain fairly constant, give or take a few cents.

Although gasoline demand has been slightly stronger in the past month, ample supplies have kept prices below $3 a gallon. It’s trend that should extend to Labor Day, unless a hurricane shuts down oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Typically, there’s not much difference between how much we drive in July and how much we drive in August,” said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. “Without hurricanes, I think gasoline prices are probably going to trend lower.”

Kloza expects August pump prices to remain within 5 cents to 10 cents of the current range, with a national average hovering around $2.75 a gallon before falling as demand fades after Labor Day.

The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline fell 0.3 cent to $2.741 today, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. It’s about 1.4 cents less than it was a month ago but still 22.5 cents more than a year ago.

In Houston today, drivers paid an average of $2.537 a gallon, down from $2.540 Thursday.

Motorists and commuters in the West are paying the highest prices, averaging from $2.862 a gallon to $3.524 a gallon. The lowest prices are in the Midwest, the Gulf coast region and Texas, where they average from $2.523 a gallon to $2.605 a gallon.

Energy prices settled higher on a day of uneven trading after the government said the economic recovery slowed during the second quarter as consumers conserved their money.

“I think we saw a lot of positioning because of the end of the month, end of the week,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates. “It’s just a choppy, see-saw trade.”

The Commerce Department said the U.S. economy grew 2.4 percent in the April-to-June period, which was the slowest pace in nearly a year.

Analysts said that as investors initially were concerned about the slowdown but then were encouraged by consumers’ savings rate.

The report comes on the heels of mixed economic data that has been released in the past month. Oil supplies remain ample with slight improvement in demand.

Yet, oil prices have remained “remarkably resilient,” Cameron Hanover consultants stated in a report.

Benchmark crude began the month just shy of $73 a barrel. The price for September delivery added 59 cents to settle at $78.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“We have a market that is having a hard time moving lower — or we have a market artificially propped up at high prices and just ready to collapse,” the report said. “Either way, the upside does seem limited.”

In other Nymex trading, heating oil for August delivery added 0.55 cent to settle at $2.0427 a gallon. Because that contract expires today, much of the trading has moved to the September contract, where the price rose 1.85 cents to $2.0881 a gallon.

The August contract for gasoline, which also expires Friday, gained 0.92 cent to $2.1066 a gallon. The September contract rose 2.14 cents to $2.1224 a gallon.

Natural gas for September delivery added 9.6 cents to $4.923 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Brent crude settled up 59 cents at $78.18 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.