Why can't consumers buy fuel futures?

The average american family consumed about 4% to 6% of pre-tax income on gasoline, which probably means about 7% to 10% of after tax income. After you factor in mortgage payments, insurance copayments and other fixed expenses, I'm guessing that a lot of families give their local gas station about a fifth of their monthly cash in hand. Given that in the short run consumers are stuck with the car, workplace and home that they have, short run price elasticity of gasoline is famously low, or around -0.25 (for non-economists: that means a 10% increase in gas prices reduces consumption by only 2.5%). As the graph above shows, between 2002 and 2008, increases in the price of gasoline ate over  $1,500 from the budget of the average US family. Gasoline price volatility is thus a major source of risk to the finances of US families.

It is therefore surprising that a prudent consumer in the US (or in any other country I'm aware of) has essentially no ability to protect himself from the risk of future high gasoline prices. This is all the more surprising considering that that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange quotes future prices for gasoline contracts with maturities up to three and a half years from now. Presumably it would be technically feasible for a company to buy contracts for all maturities up to February 2019, split them off into 25 gallons per month cards, and sell them at gas stations or car dealerships. If consumers didn't want to fork out the cash in advance, they could do the same with options (and buy a card that allows you to buy up to 25 gallons of gasoline at a fixed price). Why doesn't this happen? Are there regulatory constraints?


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