MARKET WATCH: Energy prices mixed ahead of Easter holiday

Energy prices were mixed Mar. 28, with front-month crude still climbing but petroleum products and natural gas prices down on the New York market.

As for the broader market, analysts in the Houston office of Raymond James & Associates Inc. reported, “In a holiday-shortened week, the bull market continued as strong economic data and optimism on the Cyprus bailout spurred the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to an all-time high 3 weeks after the Dow Jones Industrial Index achieved the same feat.” Energy stocks also were up with the Oil Service Index and the SIG Oil Exploration & Production Index gaining overall through the week. Raymond James analysts said front-month crude and natural gas contracts “both rallied 3%” for the week.

“With the psychological milestone of benchmark index record-highs in the rearview mirror, should we now expect a pullback? The US jobs report on [Apr. 5] will certainly provide a clue,” they said.

“Not even North Korea's threats to attack the global finance hub of Austin, Tex., could sour the market's mood last week,” Raymond James analysts noted. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un ordered his country’s rockets on combat-ready status at the end of last week, and a photo released by state-run media of a “strike plan” chart of US targets included the Texas capital Austin along with Los Angeles and other large cities.

Equity stocks, crude, and natural gas prices were down in early trading Apr. 1 after the Institute for Supply Management reported its manufacturing index dropped to 51.3 in March from 54.2 in February. Economists previously expected the index to dip to 54.

Energy prices

The May and June contracts for benchmark US light, sweet crudes each increased 65¢ to $97.23/bbl and $97.49/bbl respectively Mar. 28 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The market was closed Mar. 29 in observation of Good Friday ahead of the Easter weekend. On the US spot market, West Texas Intermediate at Cushing, Okla., was up 65¢ to match the front-month futures closing of $97.23/bbl.

The expiring heating oil contract for April dipped 0.02¢ but closed essentially unchanged at $2.92/gal on NYMEX. Reformulated stock for oxygenate blending for the same month slipped 1.01¢ to $3.11/gal.

The May natural gas contract fell 4.4¢ to $4.02/MMbtu on NYMEX. On the US spot market, gas at Henry Hub, La., declined 0.9¢ but was virtually unchanged at a rounded $4.06/MMbtu.

In London, the May IPE contract for North Sea Brent gained 33¢ to $110.02/bbl. Gas oil for April advanced by $4.75 to $915.50/tonne.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ Vienna office was closed Mar. 29 and Apr. 1, so there were no price updates for OPEC’s basket of 12 benchmark crudes.

Contact Sam Fletcher at samf@ogjonline.com.

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