MARKET WATCH: US retail gasoline prices poised for near-record levels

Crude oil prices on the New York market experienced a moderate rise Dec. 15 while US retail gasoline prices appear poised to enter the holiday season at record or near-record levels for this time of year.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Dec. 16 -- Crude oil prices on the New York market experienced a moderate rise Dec. 15 while US retail gasoline prices appear poised to enter the holiday season at record or near-record levels for this time of year.

Analysts for Barclays Capital noted that retail gasoline prices are at record levels so far for December.

“Over the past week, [retail gasoline prices] ticked up again to a new 2-year high, although the national average stayed just a shade below $3/gal,” Barclays analyst Paul Horsnell wrote in a Dec. 16 research note. “The national average for regular gasoline prices rose by 2.2¢ to now stand at $2.98/gal.”

Horsnell said retail gasoline prices rose in all regions with the West Coast showing the sharpest rise during the past week.

Energy prices
The January contract for benchmark US light, sweet crudes rose 34¢ to $88.62/bbl Dec. 15 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The February contract gained 40¢ to $89.24/bbl. On the US spot market, WTI at Cushing, Okla., maintained pace with the front-month futures price for a second consecutive day, up 34¢ to $88.62/bbl.

Heating oil for January delivery nudged up 1.56¢ to $2.48/gal on NYMEX. Horsnell said recent cold weather is likely to support distillate readings in the next few weeks.

Reformulated blend stock for oxygenate blending for January rose 1.2¢ to $2.309/gal.

The January natural gas contract lost 3.3¢ to $4.22/MMbtu on NYMEX. On the US spot market, gas at Henry Hub, La., dropped 11.5¢ to $4.225/MMbtu.

“The market remains very temperature-focused, which makes sense: weather-driven demand has the potential to change the balance more than any other factor over the next few months and the forecast still shows no break,” Horsnell said of US gas prices.

In London, the January IPE contract for North Sea Brent crude gained 99¢ to $92.20/bbl. Gas oil for January rose $3 to $768.25/tonne.

Barclays Capital said its forecast for the 2011 average for Brent is $91/bbl and its forecast for the 2012 average for Brent is $105/bbl. The $91/bbl average for 2011 implies “a sustained period of trading above $100/bbl at points during the year,” Horsnell said.

The average price for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' basket of 12 reference crudes increased 1¢ to $88.22/bbl.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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