Gasoline Demand Destruction Accelerates Despite Plunge in Prices: Consumption Drops to August 1997 Level

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Long-term stagnation turns into a sharp decline.

Over the four weeks through September 9, gasoline consumption dropped by 11.7% from the same four-week period in 2019, to 8.56 million barrels per day on average, below the same periods in 2020 and 2021, according to EIA data today.

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The EIA measures gasoline consumption in terms of barrels supplied to the market by refiners, blenders, etc., and not by retail sales at gas stations. On this moving four-week average basis, it was the steepest decline so far this year, that has seen nothing but declines from the same periods in 2019.

The decline accelerated even as gasoline prices have plunged from the top of the spike in mid-June. This may indicate that the classic economic principle of “demand destruction” – where a price spike triggers a decline in demand that then causes the price to back off – may not just be a blip, but that this demand destruction may have become in part structural.

Peak driving season is in the summer. But this year, gasoline demand in the summer (red line in the chart below) was substantially below the summer driving season in 2019 (yellow line) and in 2021 (gray line), and roughly even with the beaten-down levels of 2020 (green line). And then in August and September, demand fell further, and ended below the levels of 2020:

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This demand destruction caused by sky-high gasoline prices is happening on a global scale. It’s where price resistance has set in, and people have changed their behavior a little here and there. They cut out unnecessary trips. They’re prioritizing their most fuel-efficient vehicle in the garage. When they buy a vehicle, fuel economy is moving up as a decision factor. Working from home has become sticky, and fewer people are commuting to work every day. And for vacations, people might have chosen to go places that involve less driving.

This demand destruction pushed down the price.

The average price of gasoline in the US, all grades combined, had spiked to $5.00 a gallon by June 13, according to EIA data. This type of price spike – up 63% year-over-year – sent shock waves through wallets and minds. Everyone was talking about the price of gasoline. But the average price has now dropped to $3.69, which is where it had been for years in the past – and yet, demand destruction accelerated…..

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