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Gas prices on verge of setting a record

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The average U.S. retail price for regular-grade gasoline rose 5.7 cents to $2.056 a gallon in the week ended today, less than a cent below the all-time record reached in May, the Energy Department said.

Gasoline prices across the U.S. have climbed since mid- February as refiners passed along higher costs for crude oil, which makes up about half the motor fuel's price. Oil futures in New York have climbed 26 percent this year to $54.95 a barrel today, the highest since October.

Prices jump at the end of every winter, as refineries switch from winter-grade to summer-grade gas, said Ray of AAA Washington. But this year, changes to the gasoline and energy-futures markets are also pushing up prices. In a normal year, prices peak around May and level out during the summer.

However U.S. motorists show few signs of curtailing their driving habits even with retail gasoline above $2 a gallon across much of the country. Crude-oil prices may have to rise to $80 a barrel or higher before U.S. demand for gasoline, diesel and other fuels begins to slow, said Arjun Murti, an analyst with Goldman Sachs.

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