Cheap gas could help cheer up the holiday season

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oil prices have been lower for longer than expected. Now, with OPEC’s decision to keep pumping at current levels, analysts expect oil to remain relatively cheap well into 2016 and maybe longer.

Motorists see the effect of cheaper crude every time they fill up. According to AAA, the national average pricefor a gallon of regular gasoline on Monday was $2.03 and should soon drop below $2 for the first time since 2009. Gas is already below $2 at nearly two-thirds of the nation’s 130,000 gas stations, according to the price-watching site GasBuddy.com. A gallon of diesel is more than $1 cheaper than at this time last year, benefiting shippers.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service, says the nationwide average could drop as low as $1.75, before turning around in the spring, possibly going as high as $2.75 in time for driving season.

All that pocket change and low interest rates are leading many consumers to splurge on new cars, particularly bigger ones. SUV sales have jumped 45 percent since November 2012, when gas was around $3.63 a gallon. But car-buying in key oil states has tailed off, according to IHS Automotive. New vehicle registrations in Texas and North Dakota rose just slightly this year through September, after outpacing the nationwide growth in the boom oil years.

Saving on gasoline could improve shoppers’ holiday spirit. Cheaper gas “frees up money that could be spent elsewhere, so that’s a plus for holiday shopping,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics.

Cheap oil also translates to lower heating bills. The average household using heating oil will spend $1,360 this year, $493 less than last winter, according to the EIA.

Big airlines such as American, United and Delta burn billions of gallons of jet fuel every year, and savings from cheaper fuel are helping them post record profits. Thanks to cheaper fuel, travelers are seeing a slight drop in average airfares after five straight years of fares rising faster than inflation.

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