NEW YORK (Reuters) - The rapid rise in the number of miles driven by U.S. motorists continued into January, federal data showed this week, with travel gaining 4.9 percent from a year ago to another record high.
Motorists drove an estimated 237.3 billion miles (381.9 billion km) in January, the most ever for the month, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration.
It was the 11th consecutive month of year-to-year growth and followed a 5 percent rise in December, the fastest rate in at least a decade. Last year, motorists drove over 3 trillion miles, the highest mileage since 2007. [ID:nL1N0WE1F8]
The trend may be good news for oil traders looking for signs of price supports for falling crude prices, given that U.S. gasoline use accounts for one-tenth of global oil demand.
"The demand for gasoline has been stronger than expected, and we are seeing stronger RBOB (gasoline) futures," said Phil Flynn, an analyst with Price Futures Group.
"Americans love low gasoline prices, and when gasoline prices fell, coupled with a growing economy, we are going back to our old habits."
Flynn said the higher than expected demand will cause prices to rise, but not dramatically given the global crude supply glut.
Analysts have attributed the swift rise in mileage to several factors, including gasoline prices that sank briefly below $2 a gallon in January, as well as a spike in new car sales and a low baseline during the severe winter of 2014.
The mileage figures provide an early indicator on underlying consumption of gasoline, official data on which is due to be released next week by the Energy Information Administration. In December, gasoline demand rose by 4.4 percent.
To see the FHA report: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/travel_monitoring/15jantvt/15jantvt.pdf
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Marguerita Choy)