NEW YORK (AP) — Motorists will catch a break at the gas pump as they head out for the Memorial Day weekend.
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. Oil has since rebounded, and that may eventually push pump prices higher later this summer.
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 contracts are traded in U.S. currency, and a stronger dollar makes them more expensive to buy with foreign currency.
The benchmark oil contract for July delivery lost 60 cents at $73.95 a barrel in afternoon trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude fell 80 cents to $73.87 on the ICE futures exchange.
This week, oil rebounded from the lowest levels since July as investors set aside worries about the European debt crisis and focused on improving economic data. Investors also were encouraged when the Chinese government said it wasn't rethinking its investments in European countries' debt.
Despite the drop in oil Friday, "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 0.69 cent at $1.9925 a gallon, and gasoline futures lost 1.53 cents at $2.0236 a gallon. Natural gas fell 0.3 cent to $4.291 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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