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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -
It's happening again.
It's not even close to the summer driving season -- in fact, it's not even springtime -- but as surely as February gives way to March, gas prices have begun their annual assent.
The average price for a gallon of regular is now $3.53 a gallon, according to AAA. That's 17 cents higher than it was just a week ago, and 23 cents higher than last month.
In parts of Los Angeles, drivers are already paying more than $5 a gallon.
"I'm shocked. I don't know what happened," Diana Griffitts, a motorist filling up at a downtown LA station, told CNN. "Just a week ago I paid under $4 a gallon. I'd like an explanation."
Well Diana, we'll try.
Analysts say gas prices are going up for two basic reasons: oil prices are rising, and refineries are shutting down.
Oil prices have jumped 10% over the last two months. The price of crude accounts for 68% of the cost of a gallon of gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. Other costs include refining (8%), marketing and distribution (11%), and taxes (13%).
Energy analysts say oil prices are rising partly because the economy is improving. The U.S. housing market had its best year in the last five, U.S. job growth is steady, and the Chinese economy is showing an uptick.
OPEC production cuts are also causing oil prices to rise. The cartel is believed to have cut production by about 1 million barrels a day over the last few months, partly as a response to rising oil production elsewhere, notably the United Sates.
On the refining front, several refineries have either shut down or are about to for maintenance before the switch to summer gasoline, which often has to be formulated to prevent smog buildup in the warmer weather. That comes on top of the closure of a Hess refinery in New Jersey last month, which was reportedly losing money.
"There's no shortage," said Andrew Lebow, an energy broker at Jefferies Bache in New York. "But there's anticipation that as refineries go down, stockpiles will draw."
Investors are moving their cash into energy futures, attracted by the improving economy and potentially lower gasoline supplies.
In early December, 11.7% of the most commonly traded U.S. oil futures contracts were held by investment funds betting the price would go higher, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. As of last week, that number jumped to 15%.
That money-movement ritual happens every spring, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. Each year, though, it seems to be happening earlier and earlier, he said.
Fortunately for motorists, prices this year are not expected to be as high as last year.
Thanks to an oil and gas production boom in this country, peak gasoline prices are expected to top out somewhere between $3.50 a gallon and $3.90 a gallon this year, Kloza said. Last year's top price was $3.94 a gallon, set in early April.
Average prices for the whole year are expected to be lower, too. Kloza is predicting an average of $3.25 to $3.50 a gallon. That's nice break from last year's average of $3.60 -- which caused U.S. motorists to spend a record $479 billion at the pump.
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:17 AM EDT2013-06-19 10:17:41 GMT
New this morning from Colerain Township - D'schon Powell is facing robbery and resisteing arrest charges in Colerain Township after he knocked down a store security loss prevention officer who was questioningFull Story >
A man is facing robbery and resisting arrest charges in Colerain Township after he allegedly knocked down a store security loss prevention officer who was questioning him about some items in a bag. Full Story >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:13 AM EDT2013-06-19 10:13:14 GMT
Police are in the 2400 block of Canterbury Avenue in Golf Manor investigating the report of two people shot. Few details are available at this time but canine units and an ambulance are on the scene. FOX19Full Story >
Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies and Golf Manor Police are investigating a shooting in the 2400 block of Canterbury in Golf Manor. Full Story >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:20 AM EDT2013-06-19 10:20:38 GMT
Companies from throughout the tri-state area will be looking to fill more than 3,500 job openings during a career fair at the Radisson Hotel in Covington. The event is Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ThereFull Story >
Companies from throughout the tri-state area will be looking to fill more than 3,500 job openings during a career fair at the Radisson Hotel in Covington.Full Story >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 7:13 AM EDT2013-06-19 11:13:50 GMT
The Cincinnati Zoo will be taking a variety of animals to Great American Ballpark for Zoo Night on Wednesday, June 19 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fans will be able to meet face-to-face with one-of-a-kindFull Story >
The Cincinnati Zoo will be taking a variety of animals to Great American Ballpark for Zoo Night on Wednesday, June 19 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.Full Story >
Tuesday, June 18 2013 10:34 PM EDT2013-06-19 02:34:44 GMT
Four people have charged for holding a mother and her child captive for years. Jordie Callahan, Jessica Hunt, Daniel J. Brown and a fourth person are accused of engaging in human trafficking. AccordingFull Story >
Four people have been arrested for holding a mother and her child captive for years in Ashland.
According to the charges, the suspects used beatings, threats of death and threats of attacks from pit bulls and large snakes to hold a woman and her child against their will for two years.Full Story >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 7:31 AM EDT2013-06-19 11:31:59 GMT
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is urging Ohio to scrap a plan that could put a highway through a beloved 80-acre wooded area that residents of the village of Mariemont use for hiking andFull Story >
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is urging Ohio to scrap a plan that could put a highway through a beloved 80-acre wooded area that residents of the village of Mariemont use for hiking and gardening.Full Story >
Tuesday, June 18 2013 9:23 AM EDT2013-06-18 13:23:30 GMT
A 5-year-old girl set up a lemonade stand across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church compound, and now the group is targeting her. Jayden Sink raised nearly $200 on Friday while she sold lemonadeFull Story >
A 5-year-old girl set up a lemonade stand across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church compound, and now the group is targeting her.Full Story >
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