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Some energy producers withheld gasoline to raise prices, FTC says

WASHINGTON — Some energy producers withheld supplies of gasoline to maximize profits, but there is no evidence that companies conspired to raise gas prices last summer, the Federal Trade Commission has concluded.

In a final report released today, the FTC said that a variety of factors, including many beyond the control of producers and marketers, were partly responsible for gasoline prices soaring beyond $2 a gallon in parts of the Midwest last summer.

Still, the FTC report said that "conscious, but independent choices" by market participants, often to maximize profits, also played a significant role in the Midwest price spikes.

"Although the principal causes of the price spike were largely beyond the immediate control of industry participants, the industry as a whole made errors in supply forecasts and underestimated the potential for supply shortages," the FTC report concluded.

The agency was asked last year to investigate whether producers and marketers had violated antitrust laws to manipulate the summer gasoline markets in the Midwest, where supplies were particularly tight.

"The investigation uncovered no evidence of collusion or any other antitrust violation," concluded the report summary, a copy of which was made available Thursday to The Associated Press.

"Some firms did take advantage of the situation by withholding gas to keep prices and their profits high," said Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., who was briefed Thursday on the FTC findings.

The FTC investigation found that decisions by some refiners, acting independently, added to the supply shortages and price increases.

When prices spiked, especially in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, several companies "delayed shipments of additional product into the Midwest in the expectation that prices would soon abate," said the report.

Last May and June prices in Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit rose well above the $2 mark — as much as 65 cents a gallon above the national average.