gas prices

The Great Recession and high oil prices hit the boat industry hard, knocking down sales. Now, with hiring up and fuel prices down, the boat industry is expecting a rebound. And enthusiasts are crowding into boat shows around the country.

Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, says that any extra money in boaters' pockets is good for business. In fact, his organization is forecasting up to 5 percent higher sales for new powerboats this year.

All around the country, gasoline prices have been falling for weeks, down to an average of about $3 a gallon. Those lower prices are helping restrain inflation across the board.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department said its consumer price index barely inched up 0.1 percent last month. Over the past 12 months, the CPI has risen by 1.7 percent, roughly half of its historical average rate of increase.

That sounds great for consumers.

The weather is warming and vacation season approaching.

And, just as predictably, the price of gasoline is rising. It does that every spring as refineries switch to more expensive summer blends.

But this year, the seasonal price bump is getting an extra bounce. Gasoline is costing consumers about 5 percent more than last year at this time, even though oil supplies are abundant. Why?

Experts say U.S. retail prices are nudging higher in large part because Gulf Coast refineries are sending more gasoline to other countries.

Cold weather this week has boosted demand for heating fuels across the country. Natural gas prices are up, especially in the Northeast. At one point prices for natural gas into New York City jumped nearly tenfold from an average winter price of $5.68 per million BTU to $55.49, according to Bentek Energy, an analytics company.

In recent weeks, economists have been worrying about the negative impact of the now-ended government shutdown and potential debt crisis.

But away from Capitol Hill, the economy has been getting a big boost: Gasoline prices have been declining, week after week. In some parts of the country, a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline is now down to less than $3 a gallon — a price most Americans haven't seen in three years.

And any time the pump price starts dropping, consumer spirits start rising.