NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. gasoline and heating oil futures slid on Tuesday, pulling back from pre-Hurricane Sandy gains as several key East Coast refineries and pipelines restored operations and traders bet on an enormous hit to demand for fuel.
Although the East Coast’s second-biggest refinery reported some flooding and, along with two other plants, suffered a power outage that could stymie production, some traders moved to pare back the risk premium that had driven three days of gains ahead of the storm they feared could squeeze fuel supplies.
Instead, the focus was shifting to diminished demand for transportation fuel as Sandy paralyzed much of the region, shutting airports, shipyards, rail and highways. The East Coast region, known as PADD 1, consumes an estimated 5.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of fuel, about a quarter of the nation’s total.
“The demand destruction may be the biggest since right after the attacks of September 11,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
Benchmark Brent crude futures fell and U.S. crude managed to post a gain in choppy, low-volume trading, as many market participants in the U.S. Northeast were among the millions of people confronted with scenes of destruction left after the monster storm smashed into the New Jersey coast.
U.S. front-month November RBOB gasoline fell 2.80 cents to settle at $2.7288 a gallon, declining after a three-day rally. Trading volume was just below 105,000 lots traded, 29 percent below the 30-day average, according to Reuters data.
Gasoline futures bounced off Tuesday’s low of $2.6916 a gallon after Phillips 66 (PSX.N) said its 238,000-barrels-per-day refinery in Bayway, New Jersey, the region’s second-largest, suffered “some flooding in low-lying areas,” as well as a power outage that is expected to last one or two days.
The refinery shut on Monday as a precaution.
Two smaller plants were also idled by power trips, threatening to slow the recovery of fuel production that has been almost completely halted by the storm.
The closure of the CME Group Inc’s (CME.O) New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) trading floor, which was in the city’s evacuation zone, also weighed down activity.
CME said on Tuesday that NYMEX floor trading would resume on Wednesday contingent on New York City lifting the evacuation order for Zone A, which includes the NYMEX headquarters.
November heating oil futures, the U.S. benchmark for distillates, fell 2.86 cents to settle at $3.0866 a gallon, having fallen as low as $3.0675. Prices on Monday reached $3.1495, the highest since October 19.
The November refined products contracts expire on Wednesday.
Despite some power problems, the region’s refineries were seen as having emerged mostly unscathed by the storm, with the 330,000-bpd Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, the biggest on the East Coast, already ramping up operations.
U.S. December crude edged up 14 cents to settle at $85.68 a barrel, having reached $86.24. Prices fell to $84.66, their lowest since July, during Monday’s session.
“I think (U.S.) crude is getting a lift because there was less damage than anticipated, and the refineries will be coming back up relatively fast,” said Mark Waggoner, president at Excel Futures Inc.
Brent December crude fell 36 cents to settle at $109.08 a barrel, having swung from $108.65 to $110.10.
Brent’s premium to U.S. crude fell to $23.40 a barrel based on settlements, after dropping below $23 and pushing above $24 a barrel during Tuesday’s session.
U.S. crude oil inventories rose 2.1 million barrels last week, the industry group American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday, more than consensus analyst expectations. <API/S>
Gasoline stocks fell 173,000 barrels and distillate stockpiles decreased 2.6 million barrels, the API said.
U.S. crude inventories were expected to have increased by 1.5 million barrels in the week to October 26, according to a Reuters survey of analysts. <EIA/S>
Gasoline stocks were expected to be up 200,000 barrels and distillate stocks down 1.3 million barrels, the survey said.
The U.S. Energy Department said it was delaying the Energy Information Administration’s weekly oil inventory report at least until Thursday, depending on the extent of the storm damage.
Additional reporting by Alice Baghdjian in London and Florence Tan in Singapore; editing by Carol Bishopric, Prudence Crowther and Andre Grenon