Gasoline prices drop across the nation

Daily rises at the pump seem to be a thing of the past — at least, for now.

Gasoline prices dropped a penny overnight to $3.56 in Houston today, and the local average is up only a penny since last week. Over the past month, gas prices are up 17 cents as crude oil prices rise.

Texas saw prices edge down a third of a penny to $3.59, but the statewide average has risen 2 cents as spring break nears. Nationally, the price is hovering around $3.76, a rise of 2 cents over last week’s average, according to AAA gas gauge.

However, analysts warn those drops are likely to be followed by steady rises as the Memorial Day weekend approaches. Analysts have forecasted the national gasoline average could top $4-mark by the holiday weekend.

Gasoline prices have been rising since the New Year because of tensions with Iran, three northeast refineries closing and growing global demand have helped push crude oil prices higher.

“To a great extent, you can blame the tens of millions of people who have moved from Third World poverty into something approaching the middle class,” said Tom Kloza, the chief analyst for Oil Price Information Service. “Those folks need fuel for transportation, agriculture and industry.”

As prices rise at the pump, public anger has been directed at three familiar targets: President Barack Obama, oil companies and Wall Street traders.

Kloza said it is unfair to blame any president or oil company for the rising price of gasoline, because they do not set the price of the commodity. But, he said Wall Street might bear some responsibility.

“I believe that the financial asset-ization of oil — the huge expansion of paper markets for crude oil and gasoline futures — is a culprit,” he said.

However, Kloza said the situation provides a double-edge sword.

“The high prices that have been bred by investment and speculation in oil have brought increases in North American production,” he said. “But those high prices also hit people on the margins of society in their wallets.”