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Gasoline prices hit a new low for 2010

Motorists are still getting a break at the pump, as gasoline prices continued their monthlong slide on Tuesday, dropping to a new low for 2010.

Oil prices spiked above $77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, spurred by upbeat economic news. Today's rise may not translate into higher pump prices immediately. Although there have been price swings of four or five percent in oil from time to time, crude prices per barrel have lingered mainly in the $70s over the last few months.

Retail gasoline prices hit a nationwide average of $2.61 per gallon and fell below $2.40 in parts of the country; including Ohio, Oklahoma and Missouri, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. The Energy Information Administration will release its survey of nationwide gasoline prices later Tuesday.

Prices are now 16 cents below the Jan. 15 peak, but still 64.5 cents above year-ago levels. Motorists spend about $953 million per day on fuel, down from about $1 billion per day last month, according to OPIS' Tom Kloza. The typical motorist uses about 50 gallons of fuel per month, which would cost about $130 at current prices.

Prices have been particularly cheap in the Midwest where weak consumption coupled with less expensive winter gasoline blends pushed wholesale prices to a range of $1.75 to $1.85 per gallon last week, Kloza said.

Wholesale gasoline prices jumped 5 to 7 cents per gallon Tuesday. Prices could move higher as the spring driving season approaches.

Oil prices jumped on Tuesday as the dollar weakened and stock markets climbed on news the economy may be improving. The Empire State manufacturing index rose to 24.91 this month, compared with a forecast of 18, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters. Reports on housing starts, jobless claims and inflation are due out later this week.

Benchmark crude for March delivery rose $2.88 to settle at $77.01 a barrel on the Nymex.

Because crude is traded in dollars, it becomes more expensive when the dollar falls and allows investors holding other currencies like the euro to get more oil for less.

Natural gas prices fell, even as another winter storm dumped as much as a foot of snow on the Midwest and the forecast called for cold temperatures for much of the nation for the rest of the month. The U.S. is awash in natural gas, with 2.1 trillion cubic feet in storage, according to the Energy Department.

Natural gas lost 15.8 cents to settle at $5.310 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil rose 7.74 cents to settle at $1.9963 a gallon, and gasoline climbed 5.87 cents to settle at $1.9882 a gallon.

In London, Brent crude was up $3.17 to settle at $75.68 on the ICE futures exchange.

Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.