Good news for those feeling pain at the gas pump: This might be as bad as it gets all summer.
Oil analysts think we may be either near or at peak gas prices, pointing to a tiny but significant dip in crude oil values.
Crude oil closed Friday at $69.44 a barrel, down $2.49 from the previous Friday's closing price of $72.04 per barrel — the first week-to-week drop since April. That decline caused Monday's Florida gas prices to cheapen by two-tenths of a cent, averaging $2.71 per gallon.
"Even though that's small, it's a pretty important signal," said Gregg Laskoski, AAA Auto Club South's public relations director. "It shows we may be hitting a plateau."
Though prices tend to peak a little later in the summer, the basic indicators show the typical pattern of a peak coming early this year, Laskoski said.
Economic factors, such as the weak dollar causing investors to shift their money to commodities, pushed crude oil prices even higher than the Department of Energy predicted this season. But the fundamentals of supply and demand — that is, gas surplus is plentiful while people are using less of it — could eventually pull prices back down in the latter half of summer.
"But the real key could be watching the dollar," Laskoski said. A weaker dollar typically means higher gas prices, while a strengthening dollar means lower prices.
Of course, other unforeseeable events could knock the whole system out of balance. A hurricane threatening the Gulf of Mexico's oil infrastructure could cause short-term price hikes.
But if we can make it to the end of summer driving season without such a disaster, we'll likely see a big drop in prices by October.
"Making it to Labor Day without a hurricane will be important," Laskoski said. "Then we're getting into the cheaper winter blend of oil, which will also help bring the price down."
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.