There were some smiles at the gas pump on Monday as the average price of a gallon of unleaded regular dropped by a couple of cents across the country.
The average retail price of gasoline is $2.75 a gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That's down 2 cents from Friday and 2.4 cents from a week ago. Gas is 11.3 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.
Gasoline prices have dropped as crude oil prices fell from about $81 a barrel in the past week, mostly on worries that the U.S. and global economic recoveries are losing steam. On Monday benchmark crude for September delivery fell 29 cents to $75.10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in midday trading. The contract lost 35 cents on Friday to settle at $75.39 a barrel, its lowest level in a month.
Economic data has curbed investor enthusiasm. New York's Empire State Manufacturing Index released Monday showed a slight increase this month, but not as much as expected.
The global picture was no brighter. Japan reported surprisingly low economic growth in the second quarter, and China - the world's biggest energy consumer, also showed slower growth as Beijing clamps down on a credit splurge driving up real estate prices.
The stock market was listless in Monday trading, swaying from small gains to small losses. Oil has tracked stock prices in recent weeks, as investors gauge consumer sentiment - and energy demand - by the direction stocks take. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up about 15 points at midday. The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 were also little changed.
Some analysts think that economic data, lower stock prices and an abundance of oil could keep crude prices from rising much soon.
"There is plenty of oil available right now, and oil market fundamentals are bearish," said energy consultants Cameron Hanover. "The question for (this) week is whether they will be allowed to further develop their theme of weakness through lower prices."
Experts at Commerzbank agreed but did not see oil prices falling off a cliff. "The likelihood of a sharp collapse in crude oil prices to below $70 is unlikely given that we have yet to enter the most dangerous part of what is supposed to be a very busy hurricane season."
Severe weather can threaten oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico and the pipelines that deliver them. Although tropical storms and hurricanes have yet to pose much threat, Tradition Energy analyst Addison Armstrong notes the ongoing hot weather that's gripped most of the nation could help push up natural gas prices from levels not seen since the end of May.
"Weather forecasts have edged slightly warmer since the end of last week with mostly above-average temperatures expected to prevail throughout much of the eastern half of the country in the next couple of weeks, which should continue to provide a light undercurrent of support for gas prices in the coming week," he said.
Although some electricity generators have been using more natural gas to keep up with higher demand for cooling, gas is abundant and U.S. supplies remain above the five-year average for this time of year. On Monday natural gas fell 12.8 cents to $4.200 per 1,000 cubic feet on the Nymex.
In other trading in September contracts, heating oil lost 1.18 cents to $1.9838 a gallon and gasoline gave up 1.39 cents at $1.9257 a gallon.
In London, Brent crude fell 36 cents to $74.75 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Associated Press writer Pablo Gorondi in Hungary contributed to this report.