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Average retail gasoline in the U.S. reached $1.70 per gallon last week, which is its lowest level in more than 4-years on the back of demand destruction for oil which has driven the price of front-month NYMEX RBOB futures below 92 cents a gallon. According to estimates by General Motors, each $0.01 change in the retail price of gas has a $1.5 billion impact on annual consumer spending. Based on the current U.S. average retail price of regular gas of $1.70 per gallon and the 2007 average price of $2.81 per gallon, this equates to a $1.11 change or an additional $166.5 billion of annualized consumer spending injected into the economy (or about 1% of consumer spending in 2009), not an insignificant amount. And this could be just the beginning.

Not surprisingly a clear divergence has emerged between the Consumer Discretionary (XLY) and the broader S&P 500. Over the last month the XLY increase 3.6% versus the SPX at -2.3%. See today’s Early Look for more thoughts on some changes at the margin that may be influencing consumer trends down the road.