February Gas-Price Spike Becoming an Annual Tradition?

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Demand for gasoline usually dips during the cold, sleepy month of February. Prices at the pump tend to decrease or remain flat as well. Not last February, though, when gas prices spiked during a run-up to peak prices in the spring. And this February, prices are rising even quicker than last year.

Twelve months ago, drivers were puzzled — and annoyed — by the sharp increase in gas prices, which was doubly frustrating because February has traditionally been a month when prices at the pump fall. Around mid-February 2012, the national average for a gallon was $3.52, which was 40¢ higher than it was at the same point in 2011. Drivers grumbled that they were paying the highest ever prices for such an early time of the year and that prices were rising roughly 1¢ per day in many states.

Lately, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, the national average is $3.75 per gallon. Prices have risen every day for more than a month, in what seems to have become a new February tradition that’s unwelcomed by drivers.

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While an early-year gas-price hike isn’t entirely shocking given the events of last year, the pace of the rise is especially swift. In Chicago, the average price rose 40¢ over the past month and is now close to $4.10 per gallon. During the same one-month span, prices increased 60¢ in Michigan, according to Detroit News. In California, prices crept up 55¢ over a 25-day span, hitting all-time highs for this time of year. The Orlando Sentinel reported that a gallon of gas in central Florida costs 16¢ more than it did just one week ago, and 41¢ more than three weeks ago.

The reaction of analysts is that these annual price increases should more or less be expected nowadays. Per the Orlando Sentinel:

‘So far, market trends and price fluctuations at the pump have been similar to 2011 and 2012, leading analysts to believe prices will peak in April before they retreat,’ said Jessica Brady, an Auto Club Group spokeswoman in Tampa.

“We see something like this happen around the end of January,” Mark Griffin, president of the Michigan Petroleum Association, told Detroit News. “[Prices] start up from there as speculators start counting on an increase in demand going into spring.”

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What this may mean is that, more often than not going forward, drivers should expect gas prices to rise — not fall — during the first few months of every year.