Supply, demand, and consumer gasoline prices

October 08, 2003

According to the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average consumer spent approximately $1,300 on gasoline and motor oil in 2000, an increase of 22.4 percent over the 1999 figure.

Average annual expenditures for gasoline and motor oil, all consumer units, 1984-2000
[Chart data—TXT]

Over the same period, the average price of gasoline increased 36.3 percent, indicating that price changes within the gasoline market can substantially affect consumers’ spending.

Conventional reasoning suggests that the high level of volatility for gasoline prices is the result of supply forces, as the price of crude petroleum changes rapidly due to production decisions of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nations. However, shifts in demand also can cause variations in gasoline prices.

Historically, price changes for consumer gasoline have been driven by changes in supply as opposed to demand. In all recent cases, interruptions in the supply of crude petroleum resulted in significant increases in the prices of crude petroleum, wholesale gasoline, and consumer gasoline. However, changes in demand affected gasoline prices only marginally.

The data in the chart are from the Consumer Expenditure Survey program; these and other data are analyzed in "Consumer gasoline prices: an empirical investigation," Monthly Labor Review, July 2003.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Editor's Desk, Supply, demand, and consumer gasoline prices on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2003/oct/wk1/art03.htm (visited April 19, 2014).

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