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MONDAY, MAY 21, 2007
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Fewer miles driven; demand for gas higher

NEW YORK (AP) — With gasoline prices hitting records above $3 a gallon, analysts are watching closely for any hints that motorists are altering their behavior.

This vigilance has led to an undisputed conclusion — that federal statistics reveal contradictory trends — and an unresolved debate.

For the first three months of 2007, Department of Energy data show U.S. demand for gasoline rose by more than 2 percent, while Department of Transportation data suggest Americans drove nearly 1 percent fewer miles.

UBS analyst Jan Stuart addressed the issue Friday in a research note: “A question we have gotten a lot lately is: How can gasoline demand be growing if miles traveled data are heading down in the first quarter?”

Stuart answers unequivocally that gasoline demand is growing, taking issue with the methodology used by the Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration. He also suggested the Energy Department data may be flawed — underestimating demand.

The energy agency’s data, which come from surveys of suppliers, show that daily gasoline demand from January to March averaged 9.1 million barrels per day, or 2.3 percent more than a year ago. Year-over-year demand has continued to rise since the start of April.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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