Oil sets record for sixth-straight day
Light, sweet crude for May delivery at $117.48 per barrel
NEW YORK - Rising gasoline prices tightened the squeeze on drivers yesterday, jumping for the first time to an average $3.50 a gallon at filling stations nationwide with no sign of relief.
Crude oil set a record for the sixth day in a row - this time closing above $117 a barrel - after an attack on a Japanese oil tanker in the Middle East rattled investors.
"It's killing us," said Jean Beuns, a New York cab driver who estimated he now makes $125 to $150 less per month than in the fall because of costlier gas. "Every day you see the price go up 5, 6, 10 cents more."
Diesel prices at the pump also struck a record of $4.20 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. That's sure to add to truckers' costs and drive up the price of food, clothing, and other goods shipped by truck.
"You and I are going to pay more," said Bob Costello, chief economist of American Trucking Associations. "Exactly how much . . . I can't tell you."
Gasoline and diesel prices are expected to keep climbing as they trace the path of crude. Oil prices are charging ahead with a host of commodities that are enticing speculators seeking hedges against a weakening dollar.
Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose to a record $117.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange before settling at $117.48, up 79 cents from Friday's close.
Gas jumped more than a nickel over the weekend and is up 23 percent from a year ago. Drivers in New Jersey are paying the least, while drivers in California pay the most, $3.86 a gallon for regular unleaded.
The Energy Department predicted this month that the monthly average gasoline price will peak at more than $3.60 per gallon in June and could even reach $4.
"It's uncharted territory," said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J. "I don't think we're done, but I have to believe we're in the eighth or ninth inning."
The higher prices are already prompting some drivers to cut back. In New York, Elvis Ragbir and Anthony Winckler said they are driving less and taking the subway more.
"I'm spending my gas money on MetroCards," Winckler said at a vehicle inspection station in Manhattan. Ragbir, a delivery truck driver, said he is looking to trade in his Lexus LS 400 for a smaller car.
Energy Department data show Americans used about 1 percent less gas in the four weeks ended April 11 than they did a year earlier.
Crude oil rose yesterday after the 150,000-ton tanker Takayama was struck off the coast of Yemen as it headed for Saudi Arabia, its Japanese operator, Nippon Yusen K.K., said. Kyodo News agency reported the Japanese tanker was fired on by a rocket launched from a small boat. None of the ship's 23 crew members was injured, but several hundreds of gallons of fuel leaked before a 1-inch hole in the tanker's stern was repaired, the company said.