NEW YORK – U.S. pump prices rose above $2 a gallon for the first time since last November, auto and travel group AAA said Thursday, lifted by refiner production cuts and a bounce in the cost of crude.
Average retail gasoline prices stood at $2.01 a gallon, up 10 cents from a month ago, according to AAA's daily survey of up to 100,000 service stations.
The hike comes after a prolonged stretch of production cuts by domestic refiners attempting to thin stockpiles and shore up flagging profits hard hit by the recession.
As of last week, U.S. refiners were running at just 82 percent of capacity, according to the Energy Information Administration, with several companies reporting economic run cuts and maintenance work.
Prices have also gotten a lift from a more than 40 percent climb in crude oil prices since mid-February that has raised the cost of producing fuel.
Gasoline remains well below record peaks over $4 a gallon hit last July, before the the recession drove down nationwide energy consumption.
The relatively low prices have driven a modest rebound in motorist demand in recent weeks, according to the EIA, and analysts said that trend could continue.
"The high price of airline tickets may still make a driving vacation more attractive, even at higher gasoline prices," said Antoine Halff, first vice-president of research at Newedge Group in New York
Prices at the pumps typically rise leading into the spring when road travel picks up.
Gasoline demand in the notoriously fuel-hungry United States dropped last year for the first time since 1991 due to the combination of high prices early in the year and the economic pullback in the autumn.