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Gas prices rise in R.I.

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PROVIDENCE – Gasoline prices added 4 cents this week – the eighth consecutive week of increases, according to AAA Southern New England.

The average price of self-serve, regular, unleaded gas at Ocean State pumps was $3.69 per gallon, according to the auto club’s Feb. 20 survey. The current price is 12 cents above the national average.

A year ago, Rhode Island’s average price was $3.22. Today, prices ranged from $3.62 to $3.80.

According to Bloomberg News, bullish oil bets by hedge funds rose to a nine-month high as rising tensions with Iran threatened crude supplies from the Middle East and the U.S. economy showed signs of improvement.

Money managers raised wagers on advancing prices by 14 percent in the week ended Feb. 14, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Commitments of Traders report. It was the highest level since May 10.

Crude rose 4.6 percent last week as the Labor Department reported the fewest claims for jobless benefits since 2008 and housing starts increased more than analysts expected. In Europe, government leaders made progress toward resolving Greece’s sovereign debt crisis. Futures also climbed as the Israelis blamed the Iranians for two attacks on diplomats.

“The economic recovery in the U.S. appears to be accelerating as the prospect of trouble in the Middle East is increasing,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Mass., said in a phone interview on Feb. 17. “It looks like we’ve seen the worst of the economic news out of Europe.”

Futures for March delivery advanced 2.4 percent to $100.74 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the seven days covered by the CFTC report. Crude gained 0.9 percent to $103.24 on Feb. 17, the highest settlement since May. Prices extended gains on Monday, rising to $105.01 at 11:18 a.m. in New York after touching $105.44.

Futures jumped 2.3 percent to $100.91 on Feb. 13 as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran was responsible for bombings of Israeli diplomatic vehicles in New Delhi and the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Thai police arrested two Iranians after blasts in Bangkok on Feb. 14 that the U.S. linked to the other attacks against Israel, Bloomberg reported.

At service stations in Rhode Island this week, the survey found average self-serve prices of $3.80 per gallon for midgrade unleaded, $3.92 for premium unleaded gasoline and $4.09 for diesel.

AAA also noted that under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and can cut fuel economy by as much as 2 percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level.

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