September 14, 2011 / 4:44 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 3-U.S. summer gasoline demand lowest since 2003

* Gasoline use averaged 9.17 million bpd this summer
    * Demand lowest since 2003, 1.8 pct lower than 2010
    * Gasoline prices averaged $3.62/gallon this summer
    (Recasts, adds details)
    By Selam Gebrekidan
    NEW YORK, Sept 14 (Reuters) - U.S. drivers curbed travel this summer as
high pump prices pushed gasoline use to an eight-year low, government data
showed on Wednesday.
    Motorists in the world's largest oil consumer pumped an average of 9.17
million barrels a day from the first week of June to the first week of
September, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed.
    Demand throughout the summer fell 1.8 percent from a year earlier,
according to Reuters calculations based on four-week average consumption
over the 14 weeks of summer.
 (Graphic comparing demand with price: link.reuters.com/hen73s)
    Consumers refrained from spending on the fuel in reaction to escalating
fuel costs after an oil-price rally from late February through May
threatened to push gasoline above $4 per gallon.
    That didn't quite happen, as oil prices came off their highs in May.
Still, a gallon of regular gasoline on average went for $3.62 this summer,
up $1 from a year earlier, EIA data showed.
    In June, motorists rushed to the open road, emboldened by falling -- if
still high -- prices. June gasoline demand was the highest in two years.
    But prices again rose in July and by August, many consumers had
canceled vacations and parked their cars, leading to the lowest gasoline
demand average for that month since 2001.
    Demand also disappointed over the Labor Day weekend. Weekly demand fell
2.4 percent last week, including on the last three days of the holiday
weekend when travelers usually pump more fuel, compared with the previous
week, data from MasterCard showed on Tuesday. [O/MC]
    "The decline was probably higher and more persistent than most
expected," said Lawrence Eagles, analyst at JP Morgan Chase.
    Weak economic conditions and high prices weighed down on summer
gasoline demand which relies on discretionary driving. But as we head into
the winter months, when people are likely to drive to their jobs or the
grocery store than to the beach, the year-over-year demand losses will be
moderate, Eagles added.
    Gasoline demand last week, which includes the last three days of the
Labor Day weekend fell
    The government data on Wednesday also showed a 1.94-million-barrel
build in gasoline stocks last week, against forecasts for a 500,000-barrel
drawdown -- entrenching worries about demand and the general economy.
    U.S. gasoline futures slumped more than 2 percent to a five-week low
after the release of the data.
 (Additional reporting by Gene Ramos)
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