Gas prices flat as oil market drifts

Gas prices were unchanged from Wednesday but fell 2 cents from last week, bringing the national average to $2.81 a gallon.

Damian Dovarganes/AP
Domingo Benavides fills his truck's gasoline and diesel tanks at a Mobil gas station Oct. 27 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Gas prices Thursday were up slightly more than 2 cents from a week ago.

Gas prices at the pump Thursday were virtually unchanged from Wednesday at a national average of $2.808 for a gallon of regular, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That's 2.3 cents below a week ago and 12.5 cents higher than a year ago.

Oil prices rose on Thursday as the dollar lost some ground against the euro and other foreign currencies. Benchmark crude for December delivery added 24 cents to settle at $82.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The price of crude oil and retail gasoline tend to move in tandem. Both have been listless for the past week, with oil prices drifting between about $80 and $83 a barrel. Most analysts think it's because traders and investors are in wait-and-see mode. "Investors await next week's bonanza: Fed meeting and midterm elections," said Addison Armstrong, senior director of market research at Tradition Energy.

"Oil is slightly higher, with the dollar trading lower and in the wake of yesterday's bearish inventory report," Armstrong said. "Speculation over the size and possible impact of the further quantitative easing (by the Fed) next week pushed the dollar lower."

Oil and other commodities priced in dollars become more affordable for buyers with foreign currencies as the dollar weakens.

On Wednesday the Energy Department said U.S. crude oil inventories expanded by 5 million barrels, considerably more than the 1.5 million many analysts expected. Supplies grew as more oil imports flowed into the country. Analyst Stephen Schork says it's the largest build for the period since 1993 and imports are at their highest point in two months.

The Energy Information Administration on Thursday said that natural gas supplies in the U.S. grew by 71 billion cubic feet, about what analysts expected, according the Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Co. Natural gas inventories are about the same as they were a year ago and 9.1 percent above the five-year average.

Colder weather may help reduce natural gas supplies as homes and businesses kick up the heat. Armstrong says forecasts for the next 10 days call for cooler temperatures in the eastern half of the country with a milder trend after that.

Natural gas rose 12.7 cents to settle at $3.890 per 1,000 cubic feet on the Nymex. In other energy trading, heating oil gained 0.52 cent to settle at $2.2435 per gallon. Gasoline picked up 1.19 cents to settle at $2.1139 per gallon.

In London, Brent crude rose 36 cents to settle at $83.59 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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