* US oil demand down during summer driving season
* Increased efficiency to keep U.S. oil demand weak-analysts
* Rising distillate demand may be export-driven-analyst
WASHINGTON, Aug 17 U.S. crude oil demand fell to its lowest in
nearly four years in July as the middling U.S. economy and fuel efficiency gains
weighed on consumption, the American Petroleum Institute said on Friday.
At the height of summer driving season, petroleum demand dropped 2.7 percent
from a year earlier to 18.062 million barrels per day. It was the smallest amount
of U.S. oil consumption for any month since September 2008.
"While retail sales for July are up and housing has improved, the weak
petroleum demand numbers are a strong indication the economy is still faltering,"
said John Felmy, chief economist for the API, the industry's main lobbying group.
"Unfortunately, achieving robust growth will likely continue to be an uphill
climb given the nation's fiscal challenges, business uncertainty, and a European
economy in jeopardy of sliding back into recession."
A large chunk of the decline in oil demand came from gasoline use. Gasoline
demand fell 3.8 percent in July to 8.624 million bpd. Consumption of the fuel was
down 1.1 percent for the first seven months of the year, compared to the same
period a year before.
Consumers are buying more fuel efficient vehicles, which is keeping U.S.
gasoline demand down, said Tim Evans, an energy analyst for Citi Futures
"This is an established, ongoing long-term trend," Evans said. "U.S. gasoline
demand appears to have to peaked in 2007 and over time we've been consuming less."
The API's demand figure for July is lower than the U.S. Energy Information
Administration's preliminary estimate of fuel consumption at 18.876 million bpd for
the month. The government agency saw July demand up 1.7 percent year-on-year.
The EIA issues its revised July demand number at the end of September.
Despite some recent upticks in economic data, oil demand will likely remain
weak year-over-year, said Matt Smith, an analyst at Summit Energy in Kentucky.
"Suddenly people are thinking everything is improving again, when the reality
is at least for oil demand that isn't the case," Smith said.
High unemployment, changing driving habits and rising fuel prices are all
digging into gasoline consumption, which comprises about half of U.S. oil demand,
Demand for distillate fuel, which includes diesel and heating oil, rose 4.9
percent to 3.622 million bpd in July, the API said.
Evans said much of the distillate demand appears to be export driven, as
developing nations require more and more diesel and residual fuel.
Jet fuel consumption declined 0.8 percent to 1.455 million bpd for the month,
Total imports in July accounted for 57.7 percent of U.S. oil demand, down from
62.2 percent a year earlier, the API figures showed.
U.S. DELIVERIES, IMPORTS, PRODUCTION
JULY 2012 JULY 2011 YR AGO PCT JAN-JULY YTD PCT
CHANGE 2012 CHANGE
Gasoline 8.624 8.960 -3.8 8.671 -1.1
Kerosene/jet 1.455 1.466 -0.8 1.403 -1.6
Distillate 3.622 3.452 4.9 3.768 -0.6
Deliveries 18.062 18.555 -2.7 18.421 -2.3
Exports 3.244 2.919 11.1 3.094 14.0
Total 21.306 21.474 -0.8 21.515 -0.3
Crude oil 8.955 9.310 -3.8 8.781 -1.6
Oil products 1.471 2.224 -33.9 1.815 -27.4
Total 10.426 11.534 -9.6 10.654 -6.7
Crude 6.225 5.480 13.6 6.226 11.9
Gasoline 8.978 9.165 -2.0 8.815 -1.8
Distillate 4.777 4.655 2.6 4.504 4.3
Kerosene/jet 1.613 1.550 4.1 1.481 2.3