March 10 (Reuters) - American drivers finally saw some relief at the pump as U.S. gasoline prices fell 5.56 cents per gallon over the last two weeks, a widely followed industry analyst said on Sunday.
The Lundberg survey said the national average price of self-serve, regular gasoline was $3.7394 per gallon on March 8, down from $3.7950 on Feb. 22.
The first drop of the year reflects easing crude oil prices, said survey editor Trilby Lundberg, but it is mostly due to refiners cutting wholesale prices for retailers following weeks of increases.
"It was practically in the cards that retailers would be able to pass through price cuts to motorists," Lundberg said in an interview.
In the nine weeks through Feb. 22, retail gasoline prices rose more than 53 cents, or 16.5 percent, as refiners idled capacity for maintenance work ahead of the spring and summer driving seasons.
Lundberg predicted gasoline prices would fall another 10 to 12 cents or more in coming weeks, since refiners and retailers both have profit margins healthy enough to support price cuts.
"Competition is fierce among those selling gasoline," Lundberg said. "So when it is possible to cut, there is a terribly strong reason to do so."
According to Lundberg's survey, which canvases about 2,500 gas stations, the U.S. city with the most expensive gas was Los Angeles, where a gallon cost $4.23. Drivers in Billings, Montana, were paying the least at $3.31 a gallon.
The price of crude oil has eased lately due to the strong U.S. dollar and increasing U.S. reserves, which are often cheaper than imported crude, Lundberg said. But since crude accounts for about 71 percent of the price at the pump, any unforeseen increase in crude prices could turn prices higher, she cautioned. (Reporting By Martinne Geller in New York; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)