Crude closes above $54 for first time this year

Oil prices hit a new high for the year Thursday and retail gasoline rose above $2 per gallon for the first time since November as investors wagered that there would be a new run on crude stocks.

Benchmark crude for May delivery rose $1.57 to settle at $54.34 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent prices rose $1.71 to settle at $53.46 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange. Gas prices rose 2.3 cents a gallon overnight to a new national average of $2.009 per gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Pump prices are 10.9 cents higher than a month ago, but $1.252 lower than the same period last year. Gas prices last hit $2 on Nov. 20. Analysts have struggled to explain the recent surge in energy prices, especially as reports continue to pour out from the federal government showing that the U.S. economy is shrinking and its oil inventories are bloated with surplus crude.

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