Feeling the pinch at the gas pump?

Take heart. The gallon of gas that costs Utah consumers about $1.40 this week cost nearly three times as much in Milan, Italy or Paris.A recent worldwide pump price comparison prepared by Runzheimer International, a management consulting firm based in Rochester, Wisc. put Milan at the top of the price list at $4.73 a gallon. Per gallon prices in Stockholm, Sweden and Paris, France also were above the $4 mark.

But gasoline in Caracas, Venezuela costs a mere 22 cents a gallon. And in Saudi Arabia, the focal point of the ongoing Middle East crisis, gas costs only 54 cents a gallon, according to the survey. The study compared the lowest motor fuel costs in each country.

But Jim Peacock, executive director of the Utah Petroleum Council, cautions the international comparison may be misleading. Gasoline prices in Europe have been traditionally higher than domestic gasoline because of high fuel taxes abroad. Gas tax, he said, can be as high as $2 a gallon in some foreign countries.

"For many years when people have gone to Europe they have noted the extremely high cost of motor fuel. I think that is why so many of the cars over there are small models, the economy type," Peacock said.

As for the relative bargains in South America, the Middle East and Mexico, Peacock cautioned that American consumers ought to consider currency exchange rates and refining and transportation costs.

Despite the disclaimers, Peacock said motor fuel continues to be a relative bargain for U.S. consumers - even at current costs. Factoring in inflation, gasoline prices are lower now than they were in the 1960s.

Increases in gasoline prices pale by comparison to the skyrocketing cost of goods and services such as newspapers, breakfast cereal and a night's stay in a hospital room.

But that's a hard sell for consumers who have recently paid the highest gas prices in nearly a decade. For now, economists see no end in sight for the price escalation.

In fact, some experts say prices may climb into record territory in the next few weeks, if tensions heat up in the Mideast desert, Reuter wire services reported Friday.

Asked where oil prices are headed next, Stephen Platt with Dean Witter Reynolds in Chicago said, "It's anyone's guess. Not many people are saying that prices will go lower."


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What others must pay

Average fuel prices per gallon during September

Milan, Italy $4.73

Stockholm, Sweden $4.57

Paris, France $4.24

Tokyo, Japan $3.76

Athens, Greece $3.15

United States $1.31

Mexico City, Mexico $ .77

Cairo, Egypt $ .69

Bogota, Columbia $ .56

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia $ .54

Caracas, Venezuela $ .22

Source: Runzheimer International