Bad news on Wall Street is good news at the gas pumps for motorists, who are now paying less than $3 a gallon in some places and might see more decreases in coming months, experts say.
A slumping world-wide economy, strong supplies and decreased driving in the United States have contributed to 10 straight weeks of lower gasoline prices.
Experts say the 200-point-plus drop of the Dow Jones average Thursday is a sign that the economy is troubled. Typically, that means fuel prices will be falling.
No prediction is fail-safe, but I dont think well be seeing increases for a while, says Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas.
Gasoline prices in North Carolina have fallen to $3.30 a gallon, down 24 cents in the past month and 25 cents over a year ago. South Carolina now has the cheapest gas prices in the country -- an average of $3.04. And many motorists are finding gas selling for as little as $2.92 a gallon near Rock Hill.
Its made traveling a lot easier, said Tom Hall, a West Virginia motorist who was filling up his car early Friday morning at a Shell station on U.S. 74 in Stallings, headed to the Myrtle Beach area. I traveled a few months ago, and gas is about 60 cents a gallon cheaper now.
In fact, Crosby says, gas was selling for $3.91 a gallon April 7 in North Carolina. It has dropped every day since.
All factors except one -- and well get to that later -- point toward a continued decline in gas prices.
The struggling European economy and problems with the euro are helping U.S. motorists. Analysts say European speculators are not investing in oil with the euro, which makes the U.S. dollar stronger and depresses prices. In addition, analysts say, fears of oil disruptions due to possible strife in the Middle East never developed. And the Chinese economy, which had been gobbling up oil supplies and forcing prices higher, is cooling.
A barrel of West Texas crude oil was selling for less than $80 a barrel Thursday. That was down about $20 a barrel from early this spring.
On top of all that, were driving a bit less, Crosby says.
Through the first three months of 2012, U.S. motorists drove 2 percent less than the same period a year earlier.
Gasoline prices typically climb a bit around July 4, as demand from motorists increases. However, Crosby says, Im not even sure if well see that this year.
The one potential headache, says Crosby and other analysts, is the weather -- specifically, the hurricane threat in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane activity in 2008 sent oil prices spiking to a U.S. record of $4.11. Hurricanes disrupted oil refinery operations in Texas and contributed to shortages in the Charlotte area that resulted in prices soaring to $5 a gallon in places.
However, that increase was followed quickly by the recession, which sent gas prices tumbling to below $2 a gallon.
You cant predict what will happen with hurricanes, or hurricane warnings, Crosby says. Thats an unknown.
In the meantime, motorists are enjoying.
One motorist at an Exxon station on Providence Road at I-485 said Friday morning that she had seen gas selling for $2.90 a gallon Thursday in Lancaster County.
Like a fool, I didnt stop and fill up, she said, pumping gasoline that was about 35 cents more expensive into her Ford Escape.