Gassing Up on the Right Stocks

It’s no secret that summer is the year’s busiest driving season. School vacations and warmer weather inspire trips to the beach or mountains and longer journeys to relatives’ homes or tourist destinations. The AAA estimates that Americans drive an additional 440 miles each summer.

And this summer will see a great rise in driving given the lowest summer gas prices in 11 years and a stable job situation that together are spurring longer and more frequent trips. The AAA expects summer 2016 to log the most miles driven by Americans since 2005.

We’ve been busy finding names to benefit from lower gas prices in both our Profit Catalyst Alert and Growth Stock Strategist letters.

Gas prices this summer should average $2.25 per gallon, 20% less than last year. The University of Michigan estimates the average driver consumes 524 gallons of gasoline per year. Gas at today’s average price per gallon is about $.50 less than last summer. That drop deposits $262 annually in each consumer’s bank account, or about $20 per month.

In addition, the move to more efficient cars dampens the effect of lower gas prices.  The dramatic $4 per gallon gasoline prices from a few years ago encouraged a steady trend to more efficient cars. This shift lifted fuel economy steadily to 25.8 miles per gallon in August 2014 from 20.1 mpg in October 2007.

So we really don’t save that much with lower gas prices. But economists and market seers rev their engines at numbers like these. Even one or two extra road trips over the summer add up to more dollars for restaurants, hotels and the mandatory fast-food stops.

And we shouldn’t discount the psychological effect of lower gas prices. They are correlated to not only an increase in miles driven but a general rise in consumer spending. Economists refer to this as a “discretionary wealth” effect: consumers, seeing a slightly higher than average bank balance, will loosen their purse strings.

Perhaps that drip coffee at Starbucks is now a mocha latte with extra whip cream. Although barely discernible on an individual basis, these small shifts in consumer behavior add up to a notable economic boost.

Our work also shows there are some classes of consumer goods that enjoy a magnified benefit from lower gas prices.

The Gas Guzzler Effect

While gas savings aren’t great, they encourage people to indulge in their internal-combustion-vehicle-of-choice. Recreational vehicles (RVs) and boats are notorious gas guzzlers, and sales of both are perking up. The average RV squeaks out a mere 10 to 15 miles per gas gallon.

The average Boston Whaler sport boat with its outboard motor uses $75 per day on gasoline so a 20% change in gas has a larger and more immediate impact than for automobiles. And the long, slow decline in gas prices gives consumers time to plan and execute one of these big tickets purchases.

So if you’re thinking of a big ticket purchase based on lower prices, you’ll be in good company. And if you want to profit from the trend, you’ll find winners from it in both my Profit Catalyst Alert and Growth Stock Strategist letters.