MARKET WATCH: Oil prices cut by lower unemployment, rising inventories

Sam Fletcher
OGJ Senior Writer

HOUSTON, Dec. 7 -- The price of crude fell 1.3% to a 7-week low Dec. 4 on the New York market following reports of reduced unemployment, increased oil inventories, and a stronger dollar.

“The dollar rallied on news that unemployment declined 0.2% in November,” said analysts in the Houston office of Raymond James & Associates Inc. The front-month crude contract lost another 1% before the opening bell Dec. 7 on the New York market, they said, after officials from Libya, Kuwait, and Algeria over the weekend affirmed expectations that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries most likely won’t change production levels at its meeting in 2 weeks.

They cautioned, however, “Look for crude to stage a rally later this week if China reports higher-than-expected import levels.”

Natural gas futures prices were up Dec. 4 and continued climbing more than 3% in early trading Dec. 7 as below-normal temperatures frosted much of the US heartland over the weekend, including a rare temporary snow flurry in Houston. “Favorable weather conditions should continue to help demand, as the National Weather Service's…outlook for the Dec. 14-20 period is calling for much of New England and the Mid-Atlantic to experience below normal temperatures,” Raymond James analysts reported.

In other news, they said, “While scientific debate about the relative importance of carbon emissions in causing climate change is increasingly vigorous, the [United Nations] reality is that the political horse-trading at the Copenhagen climate change conference [opened Dec. 7] will largely presuppose that global warming is real and has been caused by human activity.”

However, Raymond James analysts advised, “Any agreement that emerges from Copenhagen will probably not be worth the (undoubtedly recycled) paper it's written on” due to “a structural divergence of interests between the industrialized world (which has high but recently declining per-capita carbon emissions) and emerging markets like China and India (whose emissions remain low per capita but account for all the recent increases in global emissions in absolute terms).”

They predicted, “It will be politically impossible—not to mention practically useless—for Western countries to impose binding carbon limits on their own economies unless emerging markets are brought into the framework in some meaningful way. Developing countries, however, are opposed to all but token changes in their emissions practices for the foreseeable future.” Still, analysts surmised, “One easy way to curtail carbon emissions that practically all governments favor is boosting support for renewable energy—a trend that we expect to be sustained, irrespective of what happens in the murky realm of climate science and diplomacy.”

Energy prices
The January contract for benchmark US sweet, light crude dropped 99¢ to $75.47/bbl Dec. 4 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The February contract declined 96¢ to $77.25/bbl. On the US spot market, West Texas Intermediate at Cushing, Okla., was down 99¢ to $75.47/bbl. Heating oil for December delivery lost 2.27¢ to $2.03/gal on NYMEX. Reformulated blend stock for oxygenate blending (RBOB) for the same month decreased 1.8¢ to $1.98/gal.

The January contract for natural gas regained 12.7¢ to $4.59/MMbtu on NYMEX, however. On the spot market, gas at Henry Hub, La., dipped 3.5¢ to $4.52/MMbtu.

In London, the January IPE contract for North Sea Brent fell 84¢ to $77.52/bbl. Gas oil for December gained $1.50 to $621.75/tonne.

The average price for OPEC’s basket of 12 benchmark crudes lost 51¢ to $76.81/bbl on Dec. 4. So far this year, OPEC’s basket price has averaged $60.14/bbl.

Contact Sam Fletcher at samf@ogjonline.com.

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