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By Barbara Powell
DALLAS - U.S. gasoline demand rose 1.3 percent last week to the highest level since December as drivers paid the lowest average prices in 12 weeks, according to MasterCard Inc.
Drivers bought 9.09 million barrels a day of gasoline in the week ended May 18, up from 8.98 million the week before, MasterCard’s SpendingPulse report showed. That’s the most fuel purchased since the week ended Dec. 23.
The average pump price declined 3 cents in the past week to $3.73 a gallon, the lowest level since Feb. 24. Prices are 4.8 percent below a year earlier.
Fuel consumption was 0.9 percent below the year-earlier level, the 38th straight decline in that measure.
“This past week’s year-over-year decline was the smallest since the week ending Aug. 26,” John Gamel, a gasoline analyst and director of economic analysis for SpendingPulse, said in the report. “Prices have fallen over 20 cents the past six weeks as we approach the Memorial Day holiday and demand has picked up.
Fuel use over the previous four weeks fell 3.9 percent below the same period in 2011, a record 61st consecutive drop in that measure. That was the smallest decline since Jan. 20, Gamel said.
The highest prices were on the West Coast, where the average rose 12 cents to $4.26 a gallon. The lowest prices were on the Gulf Coast, where a gallon declined 7 cents to $3.55.
The report from Purchase, New York-based MasterCard is assembled by MasterCard Advisors, the company’s consulting arm. The information is based on credit-card swipes and cash and check payments at about 140,000 U.S. gasoline stations.
Visa Inc. is the biggest payments network company by transactions processed.