U.S. Lube Sales Leveled Off in 2004


Lubricant sales volumes in the United States leveled off in 2004, slipping a mere 0.5 percent after four consecutive years of significant declines, according to the latest data from the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Finished lubricant sales actually twitched up 0.4 percent from 2003.

The nations overall demand for lubes wasdragged down by a sizable drop in consumption of process oils in 2004, compared to 2003. Released March 23, NPRAs Quarterly Index of Lubricant Sales for the fourth quarter and full year 2004 showed a 4.2 percent drop in process oil volumes for the year as a whole. Sales across the rest of the market grew just a bit – the automotive sector by 0.3 percent, industrial lubricants by 0.6 percent and greases by 2.5 percent.

Ironically, it was an improvement by process oils that produced a minimal 0.1 percent increase in total sales for the fourth quarter of 2004, compared to the same period of 2003. Consumption of process oils rose 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter, while sales of automotive and industrial lubes decreased 0.4 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Grease sales for the quarter were up 4.8 percent.

The sales volume decline for the full year of 2004 was substantially lower than in any of the previous four years. Total sales dropped 4.4 percent in 2003, 3.2 percent in 2002, 6.2 percent in 2001 and 3.3 percent in 2000.

Total sales in 2004 were 12.2 percent below 1997, the index year for the survey. Volumes of industrial lubes and grease have fallen 22.9 percent and 37.3 percent, respectively. The automotive segment has declined 5.6 percent, process oils 18.3 percent.

NPRA emphasizes that its quarterly reports are meant to be used as a gauge of market trends, rather than a measurement of total sales, due to the fact that relatively few marketers participate. The association says that volumes covered by the quarterly reports account for more than 72 percent of those covered in its more comprehensive annual Report on Lubricating Oil Sales.

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