Gasoline prices have tumbled almost every day this month, dropping Friday to a national average of $2.749 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.
A gallon of regular unleaded is 12 cents cheaper than it was a month ago, 8 cents cheaper than just a week ago. The timing couldn't be better for holiday travelers.
AAA says 1.6 million more Americans will hit the highways this weekend than last Memorial Day, but the travel club expects them to spend less than last year.
Gasoline is cheaper in part because of a plunge in oil prices. Crude's fallen more than 15 percent since it hit an 18-month high of $87.15 on May 3.
Crude prices dropped again on Friday, as stock markets retreated from Thursday's big gains on new worries about Europe. Rating agency Fitch downgraded Spain's debt. The euro fell and the dollar gained strength. Oil is traded in U.S. currency, and a stronger dollar makes it more expensive to buy with foreign currency.
The benchmark oil contract for July delivery lost 58 cents to settle at $73.97 a barrel in afternoon trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude fell 64 cents to settle at $74.02 on the ICE futures exchange.
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This week, oil rebounded from the lowest levels since September as investors focused on improving economic data. Crude settled at $68.39 on Tuesday.
Despite the drop in oil on Friday, prices may not head down for long. "We've had a huge momentum swing back to the upside," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates.
In other Nymex trading in June contracts, heating oil fell 1.92 cents to settle at $1.9802 a gallon, and gasoline lost 1.91 cents to settle at $2.0198 a gallon. Natural gas rose 4.7 cents to settle at $4.341 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Press; By CHRIS KAHN]
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