High prices dampen US gasoline demand - MasterCard

NEW YORK, April 24 Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:00pm EDT

NEW YORK, April 24 (Reuters) - U.S. gasoline demand fell last week as prices held higher than levels seen a year ago, MasterCard said in its weekly Spending Pulse report on Tuesday.

Gasoline demand fell 6.1 percent from a year earlier as a gallon of the fuel at the pump cost 1.3 percent more than it did last year, MasterCard data showed.

Retail prices, however, fell 2.00 cents a gallon from the previous week to $3.90 a gallon in the week to April 20, MasterCard said.

The report also showed the four-week moving average for demand fell for the 57th straight time, down 4.7 percent from a comparable period a year ago.

Demand was hit hardest last week in the Midwest region, where year-over-year declines were as high as 7.7 percent.

Meanwhile, U.S. motorists have opted to cut back on driving over the weekends and are doing more shopping online in a bid to save on fuel costs, Michael McNamara, MasterCard SpendingPulse's Global Solutions Leader, said.

"Compared to commuter traffic on week days, we're seeing exaggerated weakness on weekends," he added.

With discretionary driving at such lows, demand may not revive quickly until prices fall below $3.30 a gallon, according to McNamara.

U.S. gasoline consumption has been on a steady decline for the last year due to rising prices at the pump.

Data from the industry-backed American Petroleum Association last week showed gasoline demand on a rebound as warm weather and declining prices brought more motorists to the road.

The falling prices are a relief to President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, which has been weighed down by inflation at U.S. gas stations. A gallon of gasoline sold for $3.87 on Monday, according to the Energy Information Administration.

MasterCard Advisors, a unit of MasterCard Inc, estimates retail gasoline demand based on aggregate sales in the MasterCard payments system coupled with estimates for other payment forms including cash and checks.

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