MARKET WATCH
Terrorist attacks trigger energy futures price spikes

Sam Fletcher
Senior Writer

HOUSTON, May 14 -- Energy futures prices soared Tuesday as traders worried that terrorist bombings Monday in Saudi Arabia might open the door to similar attacks in other Middle East countries that could affect oil operations and exports in that part of the world.

The bombings killed 29 people, including 8 US citizens and the 9 suicide bombers. At least 194 people were wounded, officials said. Saudi authorities reported a 19-member Al-Qaeda team coordinated the attacks.

Meanwhile, total imports of oil and petroleum products into the US during April increased by more than 6% from year-ago levels for the second consecutive month, The American Petroleum Institute reported Wednesday. US imports totaled nearly 12.3 million b/d in April, the highest amount in nearly 2 years.

More than 1.1 million b/d of gasoline and blending products were imported during April. It was the largest volume of product ever imported, up 32% from the same period last year, and accounted for the largest share ever, 13%, of the US gasoline market, API said. At the same time, the amount of gasoline refined in the US in April dipped by 3.3% to 8.3 million b/d.

One reason for increased US imports of gasoline is the over-supply of gasoline in Europe, said API officials. Because of increased popularity of diesel engines in European vehicles, they said, there is currently an excess supply of bargain-priced gasoline in that market.

US imports of crude also increased by 5.6% in April to the largest monthly amount in nearly 2 years, API reported.

Energy prices
The June contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes shot up $1.15 to $28.50/bbl Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The July contract jumped by 99¢ to $28.08/bbl. Heating oil for June delivery soared by 3.36¢ to 74.18¢/gal. Unleaded gasoline for the same month was up 3.05¢ to 84.45¢/gal.

The June natural gas contract increased by 32.5¢ to $6.31/Mcf on NYMEX. "Large speculators, or funds, hit (protective) buy stops in what resembled a panicky market concerned about low storage levels as summer nears," analysts said Wednesday at Enerfax Daily.

"Funds seem a lot more interested in this market than they did even a week ago," they said. "When funds decide to get involved, that's when trading gets dangerous. Once funds start buying and selling dries up, prices go up high and fast as it feeds on itself."

In London, the June contract for North Sea Brent oil gained $1.01 to $25.90/bbl on the International Petroleum Exchange. However, the June natural gas contract lost 1.5¢ to the equivalent of $2.66/Mcf on IPE.

The average price for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' basket of seven benchmark crudes inched up 9¢ to $25.41/bbl Tuesday.

Contact Sam Fletcher at samf@ogjonline.com

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