Market watch: Energy futures prices drop with profit taking

June 19, 2002
Energy futures prices fell Tuesday, wiping out gains from the two previous trading sessions on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

By OGJ editors

HOUSTON, June 19 -- Energy futures prices fell Tuesday, wiping out gains from the two previous trading sessions on the New York Mercantile Exchange as traders took their profits from the recent rally ahead of another bearish report on US petroleum inventories.

"With total US petroleum inventories rising for the fourth time in 5 weeks (up 2.3 million bbl to 744.8 million bbl) and an unexpected build in crude oil stocks, this week's American Petroleum Institute report should amplify the cautious market sentiment ahead of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' June 26 meeting. In fact, we expect that recent inventory estimates and prices have only increased the probability that OPEC will leave quotas unchanged (at 21.7 million b/d) in the third quarter despite the prospect of increasing demand and stock tightening as the second half of 2002 progresses," said Matthew Warburton with UBS Warburg LLC, New York.

"Crude inventories rose 2.5 million bbl, despite weekly crude imports falling to their lowest level since mid-April (8.4 million b/d) and higher demand from US refiners striving to produce additional gasoline. Short-term, we expect US crude imports to remain close to recent levels as extra Latin American cargoes (e.g. Venezuela) offset the reduction of Iraqi exports, production quotas, and the movement of incremental European (and) African crude into the Asian market," he said in a report Wednesday.

However, with Midwestern US inventories "relatively tight" at 61.9 million bbl and price differentials increasing, Warburton said he anticipates US imports of crude will increase by mid-July "with excess Gulf Coast inventories (175.1 million bbl) drawn into the Mid-continent."

The latest API report of petroleum product inventories was "modestly bullish," he said, with gasoline stocks down 450,000 bbl to 216.2 million bbl and distillate up "only" 900,000 bbl to 129.1 million bbl last week.

"These were supported by the smallest weekly product imports since early March (2.1 million b/d) and by robust demand for gasoline (9.2 million b/d)," Warburton noted.

"While US gasoline production reached its highest level since November 2001 and the uplift in overall demand is a welcome improvement, total product inventories and the threat of additional imports are likely to restrain further margin improvement."

The July contact for benchmark US light, sweet crudes plummeted by 66¢ to $25.43/bbl Tuesday on NYMEX, while the August contract fell 69¢ to $25.65/bbl. However, both recovered in after-hours electronic trading to $25.63/bbl and $25.85/bbl, respectively.

Heating oil for July delivery lost 1¢ to 65.49¢/gal, while unleaded gasoline for the same month was down 1.44¢ to 77.66¢/gal. The July natural gas contract retreated 6.5¢ to $3.31/Mcf.

Meanwhile, the American Automobile Association reported US gasoline pump prices remained stable well below year-ago levels through the start of the summer driving season. The average self-serve pump price for regular gasoline currently is $1.39/gal nationwide—24¢ below the June 2001 average of $1.63/gal, AAA officials reported.

They said US gasoline pump prices have remained virtually unchanged since April when the nationwide average price first settled near $1.40/gal.

In London, futures prices for North Sea Brent oil slipped a little towards the close of trading Tuesday on the International Petroleum Exchange, in anticipation of a bearish report on US inventories. The August Brent contract lost 45¢ to $24.79/bbl.
The July natural gas contract increased by 0.5¢ to the equivalent of $1.80/Mcf on the IPE.

The average price for OPEC's basket of seven benchmark crudes lost 33¢ to $23.85/bbl Tuesday.