Gasoline prices jump again

Gasoline prices jumped again this week, pushed ahead by rising crude prices and just in time for the holiday weekend rush.

In Texas, gasoline rose an average of 3 cents per gallon of self-serve regular to $2.85 as of Thursday, AAA Texas said. In Fort Worth, prices rose on average of 6 cents to $2.86. Nationally, the average rose a cent and a half overnight to $3.01 Thursday.

Optimistic economic news helped push oil prices higher Thursday. The Commerce Department said consumers spent more in November than the month before. And the Labor Department said the number of people applying for unemployment benefits for the first time fell by 3,000 last week to 420,000.

AAA also noted that growing Chinese and Indian economies mean continued strong worldwide demand for petroleum products.

"When a motorist goes to a service station to fill up, 66 percent of the cost is directly related to the price of crude oil," said Dan Ronan, AAA Texas/New Mexico spokesman. "The other 33 percent goes to the various gasoline taxes, the cost of refining the oil and turning it into gasoline, the distribution costs, marketing costs and the gasoline station's profit."

On Thursday, crude oil rose to its highest level in more than two years. Crude for February delivery was up $1.03 to $91.51 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Oct. 3, 2008. Prices are up 15 percent this year.

Related to the price of gasoline, $1.90 of today's $2.85 Texas average "is the price of oil," Ronan said.

Texas motorists are paying 40 cents more per gallon than a year ago, he said. "Motorists are now paying about $6 more for a 14-gallon fill-up than they did a year ago." In the Fort Worth area, average prices were up 48 cents from $2.38 per gallon a year ago, AAA Texas said.

Also among Thursday's raft of favorable economic news: The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment for December climbed to 74.5 from 71.6 in November. Americans increased spending in November for a fifth consecutive month, and companies stepped up orders for equipment.

"Today's data supports the economy and is boosting the oil market," said Peter Beutel, president of Cameron Hanover, a trading-advisory company in New Canaan, Conn. "All week we've wanted to move higher, either because of the rising stock market or the improving economic outlook."

A recent study from business management firm PortiaGroup, using data from OSIP, says consumers will likely pay about $1.35 more a gallon during the 12 days of Christmas (from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6) than during the same period of 2008-09.

The rising price of crude has been pushing up the price of gasoline for the past month.

The PortiaGroup-OSIP study says gas pump prices are taking a bigger bite out of household spending: an average 7.4 percent of median household income compared with 6.5 percent last year and 4.2 percent in 2008. If the pattern of higher oil prices persists, the average share of income spent on gasoline could rise to almost 10 percent by spring, with pump prices around $3.75 or more a gallon.

While gasoline prices are climbing, the price of one of the main heating sources in the nation -- natural gas -- is falling. It's down about 11 percent in the past two weeks. On Thursday, natural gas lost 6.4 cents at $4.088 per 1,000 cubic feet on the Nymex.

Star-Telegram staff writer Scott Nishimura contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.