Rising gas prices affect drivers, filling stations alike

Myrtle Beach, SC - MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Gas prices nationwide are on an upward trend, and with increasing prices, many drivers are hitting the brakes. With more money going into their gas tanks, that leaves less in their pockets for other spending.

The average nationwide price of a gallon of gas hit $2.873 this week, an 80-cent increase over the past year.

"If we continue to climb like we're doing here, for the price of crude oil, we could likely get to that $4 mark," said CNBC's Sharon Epperson.

Analysts call it a perfect storm of factors: more drivers on the road in warmer weather, refineries switching fuel blends for the summer and what could be the biggest driver, futures traders betting on a growing economy.

"People who are trading the oil futures in the speculation market are rallying and predicting that the economy is going to increase tremendously," said former Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy Randa Fahmy Hudome.

They've bid up the price of oil to a five-month high.

"That could take the wind out of this economic recovery that we've seen," Epperson said. "That could starve the economic recovery."

South Carolinians have it better than most with average prices falling at $2.659. But as prices go up, the pain at the pump isn't reserved for drivers alone.

Shawn Bartle, the general manager of Dodge's Store in North Myrtle Beach, explained that with the hike in prices often comes tension between drivers and gas stations.

"People panic and feel that it's the gas stations that are raising the price and it's not," he defended. "It's your big companies."

Bartle says he tries to do what he can to keep prices down. Every day he drives more than 50 miles around the area to survey prices, although the ultimate price point is a corporate decision.

He says when the prices go up, the profits go down.

"Usually we'll drop our margin to make a little less profit in order to try and sell a little more gas," he explained.

Bartle says they are lucky to make 1 or 2 cents off a gallon, saying that once everyone gets their cut there is little left for the store.

"It's the nozzles, the hoses, the filters for the pumps," he said. "You know, these things all eat away at the profit."

Debit and credit cards also eat a chunk out of profits, often forcing gas stations to actually lose money after they pay the card fees.

In such a tourism-driven economy, Bartle says he is hoping prices will stay low enough to continue to bring in business from visitors still willing to fill up and head to the beach.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved. NBC contributed to this report.