Retail gasoline demand drops: MasterCard

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. retail gasoline demand plummeted more than 5 percent last week compared to the same week last year as high gasoline prices kept drivers off the road, MasterCard Advisors said Tuesday.

“We’re not seeing the uptick that we’ve seen seasonally,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors.

Summer is the peak driving season in the United States, the world’s largest energy consumer, but gasoline demand has slumped this year as gasoline prices have jumped over $4 per gallon.

After the Fourth of July holiday weekend, gasoline demand typically increases, but this year the post-holiday surge in demand did not materialize, McNamara said.

American motorists pumped an average of 9.429 million barrels per day in the week that ended July 11, unchanged from the previous week, but 5.2 percent lower than the same week a year ago.

Year-to-date, gasoline demand has dropped 2.18 percent compared with the same period last year.

Average gasoline prices reached another new record of $4.09 per gallon, inching up a cent from last week.

Demand data indicates that drivers are cutting back on pumping during the week, which suggests that they are finding alternatives to driving to work such as working fewer days a week, McNamara said.

The trend is in contrast to the spring, when motorists were cutting back on discretionary driving during the weekend, he said.

Demand for gasoline has been lowest on the West Coast, where average gasoline prices are well above the national average at $4.42 per gallon, an increase of nearly 45 percent from a year ago.

The Midwest, which has the lowest average gasoline prices at $4.05, has seen the least decline in demand.

Nationwide, prices at the pump are now nearly 38 percent higher than they were one year ago and jumped $1.03 since the beginning of 2008.

The four-week moving average for gasoline demand was 9.462 million bpd, falling 3.5 percent from the same period last year.

The four-week average is down for the 22nd week in a row.

A Reuters poll showed energy analysts forecast that the Energy Information Administration would report a half-million barrel dip in gasoline inventories due to a slight increase in demand around the July 4 holiday weekend.

MasterCard Advisors estimates retail gasoline demand based on aggregate sales activity in the MasterCard payments system coupled with estimates for all other payment forms. MasterCard Advisors is a unit of MasterCard Inc MA.N.

Reporting by Rebekah Kebede; editing by Jim Marshall