Is Oil and Gasoline Demand Rising Again?

The media is filled with reports that Americans are driving less, and that gasoline demand and oil demand continue to drop. What’s the reality of the situation? Is demand continuing to drop, has it leveled off, or is it rising again? The graphs below tell the story:

Figure 1: US gasoline demand dropped off in 2008. US Gasoline demand is highly cyclical, and figure 2 corrects for this.

2007 vs 2008 Gasoline Consumption

Figure 2: To eliminate seasonality, 2007 demand is subtracted from 2008 demand to measure the difference week by week. This shows that demand crashed in September and October, but has subsequently begun to recover. Low gas prices may be responsible for the demand rebound.

2008 Second Half US Oil Consumption

Figure 3: US oil demand also dropped sharply during September and October, but has since recovered to mid-2008 levels. In addition to rising gasoline consumption, residual fuel oil demand is rising since oil is now price-competitive with natural gas.

Figure 4: The long term EIA graph shows that demand growth has leveled off, and that after a sharp drop in late 2008, demand is recovering.

Gasoline and crude oil demand seem to have recovered from the levels experienced during the heart of the financial market meltdown. Intuitively, gasoline demand should rebound a bit, since gasoline price deflation over the past year makes driving a very inexpensive activity for consumers. With the recession curtailing further oil exploration, we may be in for a price shock when economic growth returns!

Note: All data used in the graphs can be found by clicking on the EIA graphs, which link to the appropriate EIA data pages.

How much will gas cost in 3 months?

This question is actually fairly easy to answer. If we look at wholesale gasoline futures prices, we can see with pretty good accuracy what wholesale gasoline will cost in a month or two. It takes a couple of weeks (or longer) for wholesale gasoline to make it to your local gas station, so that we can look out and see mid summer gasoline prices today.

Take a look at Bloomberg’s Energy Prices page, and you’ll see that NYMEX gasoline futures are trading at just under 3 dollars (297 cents) as of April 18th, 2008.

On average, federal and state governments add another 47 cents in taxes to this figure. The federal government adds 18.4 cents in taxes, and each state’s total gas tax is listed here.

Gasoline storage, distribution, marketing, and retail markup add a bit more than 10%, or 30-35 cents to the final price.

All told, that means that $3.80 regular unleaded is on the way for the summer in low tax states, with gas just over $4 in California, Nevada, and other states with higher gas taxes.

But don’t think I’d have it any other way – just as in the late 70’s, high gas prices will be Americans’ best incentive to ditch their gas guzzlers and start conserving.