Are Americans Numbing to the Pain at the Pump?

AAA Survey Finds American Threshold for Gasoline Pricing is Rising

Gas Prices
Pumping gas by Mike Mozart
Photo by Mike Mozart https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

When it comes to filling-up at the pump, Americans appear to be changing their perception of what they consider “too expensive.”  According to AAA’s 2019 National Gas Price Survey, 50 percent of consumers think paying $3/gallon is too high – an increase of 30-cents from last year, when half of consumers reported $2.70 as too expensive.  2019’s price point is also 50 cents more than in 2016, when half of consumers thought $2.50 was too much to pay at the pump.  

 

Prices at which 50% of consumers consider gas prices to be too high, per AAA's Annual Gas Survey: 

2016 - $2.50
2017 - $2.80
2018 - $2.70
2019 - $3.00

“With gas prices increasing over the past few springs and summers, Americans have adapted to adjusting their budgets,” says Herman Jenkins, managing director of public and legislative affairs for AAA East Central.  “A slight shift in daily spending allows families to continue taking those memorable summer vacations.”  

Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents nationwide say they would make lifestyle changes to offset increased pump prices, and of those, nearly a quarter (24 percent) say $2.75 is the price that would push them toward changing habits or choices, including:

  1. Combining errands or trips – 65% (down from 79% in 2018)
  2. Driving less – 60% (down from 73% in 2018)
  3. Reducing shopping or dining out – 49% (down from 61% in 2018)
  4. Delaying major purchases – 43% (down from 50% in 2018)
  5. Driving a more fuel efficient vehicle – 35% (down from 46% in 2018) 

Gasoline Trends This Summer
With most refineries operating at normal levels, demand at robust rates, and cheaper crude oil prices, summer gas prices are in a good position to be less than last year.

Crude Analysis:  This year, the most expensive West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices, which AAA tracks to understand impact on pump prices, have ranged between $65 and $66/barrel.  Most recently, WTI crude fell as low as $53/barrel.  That is cheaper than last summer when prices ranged between $65 and $73 per barrel – with most daily prices hovering just under $70 per barrel.  This is good news for American motorists, given that crude prices account for nearly 60% of the cost of gasoline at the pump.  AAA will continue to monitor the circumstances that could cause crude oil market prices to increase, including reductions in global and domestic crude supply, exports, and U.S. gasoline demand.

Demand Forecast: For domestic gasoline demand, summer 2019 has been forecasted to reach some of the highest levels on record in the U.S.  Meanwhile, domestic gasoline stocks are at their lowest level going into June since 2016.  If demand rises while gasoline stocks remain low, pump prices could see modest increases, especially if supply is tight in local markets.  On the other hand, gas demand could fall, as we’ve seen in recent weeks due to inclement weather from the Rockies to the Midwest and South.  

Hurricane Season:  The added threat of hurricanes making landfall could also impact demand, which could suppress pump prices.  In its 2019 Atlantic hurricane season outlook, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said that warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, ongoing El Nino conditions, and an enhanced West African monsoon could produce nine to 15 named storms – including four to eight hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes.  An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.  The mere threat of a hurricane, especially one that threatens the shutdown of Gulf Coast refineries, can dramatically impact the price of crude and gasoline until normal operations resume.

As Americans settle into summer, many outliers could pave the way for unexpected price bumps, so stayed tuned. Motorists can always find the latest national and state gas price averages and trends at GasPrices.AAA.com.