Small increases in gas prices being watched carefully

For Chicago plumber John Baethke, the last six months of plunging p

John Baethke, a Chicago plumber, is carefully watching the slight increases in gas prices. CBS News

rices at the pump have been a boon to his bottom line.

He says he went from spending $100 to about $50 a week for each of his seven trucks.

The three-cent increase in the price at the pump over the last week doesn't seriously worry him -- yet.

"The fear is it's gonna get back to $4-plus a gallon maybe $5," he said.

The current rise in gas prices is the first sustained increase since Sept. 25. The annual transition from winter to summer grade blends of gasoline always adds a few dollars to a service station visit because it's expensive to do.

And a strike by union steelworkers seeking better pay at several refineries may add cost and uncertainty to the mix.

But experts who track the oil industry are not alarmed.

"It's hardly even noise at this stage of the game," said Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial. She predicts a gradual price rise will continue for the rest of the year, but will still remain well below recent peaks.

"That is an extraordinary windfall to anyone who uses oil," she said.

Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial believes gas prices will stay low for the near future. CBS News

Windfall or not, John Baethke has resisted an impulse to expand his business or hire more workers. The price of gas, he says, can always go back up.

"Oh yeah, we're cautious. We watch it,' he said. "Right now we're just enjoying the little hiatus of the high prices.

It's important to put this all in context, because while the average national price of a gallon is now around $2.07, a year ago this time it was $3.28.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.