Pre-emptive purchasing before the war in Iraq resulted in a 4,9 per cent increase in major petroleum product sales in South Africa during the first quarter of the year.

Pre-emptive purchasing before the war in Iraq resulted in a 4,9 per cent increase in major petroleum product sales in South Africa during the first quarter of the year.

According to the SA Petroleum Industry Association, petrol sales accounted for just under half of total sales and increased by 2,1 per cent to 2 598-million litres compared the corresponding period last year. In addition, there was a nine per cent boost in diesel sales.

But while fuel sales are regarded as a measure of economic growth, pre-emptive buying would have inflated first quarter sales artificially, economist Mike Schussler told .

The strongest growth in the first quarter came from diesel at 1 724-million litres. Jet fuel sales also recorded growth at 6,3 per cent to 527-million litres.

Schussler said it was highly possible that large consumers wanted to stock up on diesel before the start of the war. This could also have been true for jet fuel users.

The conflict was expected to send oil prices soaring. Speculation at the time was that oil prices could reach up to $50 a barrel, which would have resulted in hefty increases in domestic petroleum product costs.

Diesel represents about a third of most transporters' total costs and large trucking companies would have had good reason for pre-emptive buying, Schussler added.