American Gasoline Demand Isn’t as Strong as Previously Thought

  • Exports were higher than initial EIA weekly estimates
  • Miles driven in U.S. has fallen 3 of past 4 months: DOT

Gasoline demand in the U.S. isn’t growing as fast as the market thought a couple months ago.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Thursday that gasoline consumption in April was 9.21 million barrels a day, down from the 9.49 million estimated in weekly reports. Demand fell from March for the first time since 2011, when pump prices were nearing $4 a gallon. Americans drove 598 million miles less in April, according to the U.S. Transportation Department, the third decline in the past four months.

Americans hit the roads at record pace earlier this year, taking advantage of an improving job picture and the cheapest gasoline in a decade, helping to support crude oil’s rebound from a 12-year low in February. Now, with the surge slowing to a trickle -- demand growth over the past year slowed to just 0.8 percent in April from March’s torrid 3.8 percent pace -- the broader rally may come under pressure.

The government’s monthly figure for April demand came in lower than weekly estimates as gasoline exports were calculated, said Andy Lipow, president of Houston-based Lipow Oil Associates LLC. April exports were 524,000 barrels a day, while weekly estimates -- which are based on previously released monthly data and some modeling by the EIA -- ranged from 389,000 to 413,000.

"The weekly numbers are often not the same as what we get in the monthlies because it’s a derived number," said Linda Giesecke, principle analyst of Americas refining and oil product markets at Wood Mackenzie. "And then they do use a placeholder for exports."

The EIA’s demand figure -- known as product supplied -- is calculated based on refinery production, imports, exports and change in inventories at large tank farms.

Demand growth is "probably on the order of 2.5 percent, and that’s also what we’re seeing in terms of vehicle miles driven," said Giesecke. "We’re still close to that peak that we saw in 2007."

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