Wholesale gasoline prices spike

Retail gasoline prices edged higher as Hurricane Ike gained strength, according to AAA. Wholesale gas prices spike as fear mounts that Ike will shutter refineries.

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By Catherine Tymkiw and Catherine Clifford, CNNMoney.com writers

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Retail gasoline prices rose modestly for the second day in a row Thursday as Hurricane Ike entered the Gulf of Mexico, according to a nationwide survey of gas station credit card swipes. But wholesale gas prices in the region soared.

Wholesale jump: As the storm churned toward the Texas coast, wholesale gas prices were up more than $1.50. On Wednesday, a gallon of gas cost $3.25 on the Gulf Coast wholesale market, and by Thursday afternoon, wholesale gas cost more than $4.75 a gallon, according to Tom Kloza, the chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service, an independent publisher that follows wholesale and retail fuel prices in North America.

The Gulf Coast wholesale market is the largest bulk market for wholesale gasoline in the world, according to Kloza.

"They are absolutely going ballistic in the Gulf Coast," said Kloza, and the pricing is based on fear of Ike shuttering refineries.

When wholesale gas prices go up, that pushes up retail prices, because dealers pass on the price jump to consumers. But Kloza said that given the oddity of the current situation, he does not expect prices at the pump to jump nearly as drastically as wholesale prices.

"You may see companies that traditionally pass on these increases only pass on a portion," said Kloza. "It is very complicated but I don't think you can use the normal metric," in this situation.

The spike up in the wholesale market could come back down as quickly as it shot up, said Kloza. "We could be at $5 a gallon for wholesale tomorrow afternoon. We could be at $3."

The futures contract for October delivery of wholesale gas was still trading around $2.78 a gallon.

Production shutdown: As of Thursday, 78.4%, or 562 of the 717 manned production platforms remained evacuated, according to the Minerals Management Service. And about 95.9% of oil production in the region has been shuttered.

Forecasters are currently predicting Ike will hit Texas, just south of Galveston, as a major Category 3 hurricane late Friday or early Saturday but the storm remains unpredictable. Still, the Lone Star state has started or planned mandatory and voluntary evacuations in at least seven coastal counties.

Retail prices: The average price of regular unleaded gasoline edged up 0.3 cents to $3.671 a gallon from $3.668 a day earlier, motorist group AAA said Thursday. Gas prices had previously risen in response to Hurricane Gustav, which forced workers to abandon offshore oil rigs ahead of that storm.

Gas prices jumped 0.5 cents to $3.537 a gallon in Texas. Prices also popped higher in Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. However, prices edged lower in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Prices have trended higher in the Midwest and Southeast partly due to production delays caused by Gustav, said Tom Kloza from Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). He noted that prices are expected to continue rising as Hurricane Ike churns through the Gulf of Mexico.

Nationwide, Alaska and Hawaii remained the two states with gas prices still tracking above $4 a gallon. The cheapest gas continues to be found in New Jersey, where prices averaged $3.409 a gallon.

Crude prices have trended lower amid heightened concern about weakening demand. Oil prices continue to hover around their lowest level in five months.

On Wednesday, crude prices churned throughout the session as heightened concern about slumping demand overshadowed a government report showing a bigger-than-expected decline in oil and gasoline inventories.

Crude futures for October delivery settled down 68 cents a barrel at $102.58 - their lowest close since April 1. Early Thursday, prices edged 43 cents lower to $102.15 a barrel.

Meanwhile, gas remains about 10.8%, or 44 cents, below the record high average of $4.114 that AAA reported on July 17, but remains 86 cents above this time last year To top of page

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