Gas prices hold steady

Some analysts had predicted that gas prices might eclipse $3 this past summer. That never happened, thanks to the continued sluggish economy, and throughout the summer prices have remained in the same ballpark as last year’s prices.A gallon of regular gas in the Manchester area is currently averaging about $2.56, a nickel higher than last year at this time, according to the American Automobile Association. Premium prices also have remained steady compared to last year.Diesel prices, while remaining in the mid-$2.80 range over the past month, are some 20 cents higher than last year at this time.In the Portsmouth area, prices are averaging a few cents higher than they are in Manchester, which is typical for the area.Over the past four weeks, prices in both Manchester and Portsmouth have dropped about 4 cents, from about $2.61 at the end of August to $2.56 today.Globally, oil per barrel prices have been in the low- to mid-$70 range for some time, reflecting the slow economic turnaround.According to the federal Energy Information Administration, crude inventories increased by 1 million barrels for the week ending Sept. 17. Analysts had expected a drop of 1.5 million barrels on concerns of the recent shutdown of a major pipeline.Inventory is just one factor affecting oil prices. Oil prices are also tied very closely to the value of the U.S. dollar. How this all will affect heating oil heading into winter remains to be seen.Currently, the EIA is predicting heating oil prices in the Northeast for the fourth quarter of 2010 to average about $2.94 per gallon, rising to $3.06 in the first quarter of 2011. This is some 20 cents higher than last year, when fourth-quarter 2009 heating oil prices averaged $2.73 and peaked at $2.92 in the first quarter of 2010.– CINDY KIBBE/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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