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Supply concerns boost gas to $3

Even higher costs are expected in the spring. Oil prices, though, drifted downward, to $96 a barrel.

NEW YORK - Gas prices again reached $3 a gallon at the pump yesterday, following rising futures prices on concerns about tight inventories and potential supply disruptions.

But oil prices fell yesterday, reversing gains after weak figures on new-home sales ignited new concerns about the economy. That gave traders a green light to lock in profits from oil's recent rally.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery fell 62 cents to settle at $96 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Despite yesterday's swoon, oil prices have risen 5 percent in just over a week.

Retail gas prices, which typically lag the futures market, are widely expected to rise to record highs in the spring. Analysts think futures investors are anticipating big gains by buying now, driving futures - and thus pump prices - higher.

"They're all jumping on the gasoline bandwagon," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, who predicts pump prices will peak between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon in the spring. The Energy Information Administration recently predicted prices will peak above $3.40.

Gasoline futures for January delivery rose to a trading record of $2.5175 a gallon yesterday before retreating to settle down 3.65 cents at $2.4597 a gallon on the Nymex.

Gasoline futures have been pushed to new records in recent days, in part by the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index's plan to boost its gasoline futures holdings next month. The $90 billion commodities fund, which is administered by Standard & Poor's, will boost its gasoline futures holdings by about $3 billion, from 1.37 percent to 4.55 percent of the fund, Kloza said.

At the pump, prices rose 1.9 cents overnight to a national average of $3, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. After retreating from their May record, gas prices rose again in November, spiking above $3.11 a gallon when oil prices last threatened to rise to $100 a barrel.