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Spiking Summer Gas Prices to Ding Home Sales, Consumer Confidence

Kolko adds that high gasoline prices would especially dissuade home buyers from purchasing in outer suburban areas, where commutes are longer. This could, in turn, hurt government plans to rent out foreclosed homes, as many of them are in outlying areas, the economist points out.

Rich Ilczyszyn, chief market strategist and founder of expects retail gasoline prices to average $3.90 this year.

Barring any major event from Iran, Trey Cowan, Rigzone's senior market research analyst, expects retail gasoline prices to average $3.50 or less during 2012, which is roughly a 2% decline from the previous year's prices, due to weaker demand; Citi Futures Perspective's Evans, would see retail prices closer to $3 than $4 when excluding Iran.

"If ... gas prices come down to $3 a gallon, then I think once again you could see the consumer do better in the second half, much as occurred in 2011," says Feroli of JPMorgan.

Predictions of easing gasoline prices are also being driven by views that there could be potential oil supply overhang concerns coming up in the absence of a strong and immediate message by the successor of Saudi King Abdullah, reinforcing the adherence to self-imposed production limits by OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) members. "Abdullah will be 88 years old in 2012 and the question of Saudi succession will likely need to be clarified relatively soon," Walters of A.T. Kearney says of the top oil-exporting nation.

The offsetting of refinery shutdowns in the Northeast by, for instance, the expansion of Motiva Enterprises -- a joint venture between Shell (RDS.A - Get Report) and Saudi Refining -- of its Port Arthur, Texas refinery to 600,000 barrels a day, may also help prevent supply-constraint driven gasoline prices spikes.

Meanwhile, Harry Tchilinguirian, BNP Paribas' head of commodity markets strategy, says that lost European product output can be met by production by plants elsewhere in Europe; while other analysts say that during the summer, European imports may not make much of a difference on supply any way, as their conventional blends do not match the Environmental Protection Agency's summer blend requirements for some of the high demand areas of the U.S.

"A lot of people overreact, and they think this will be the year where there's not enough gasoline -- and you get these rallies," warns Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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