LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the U.S. summer driving season winds down, a wave of gasoline barrels is headed for the Northeast market from Europe and the U.S. Gulf Coast, which will squeeze profit margins for local refiners in the country’s biggest fuel-consuming region.
A string of inventory draws in the United States and a revival in gasoline demand alleviated a longstanding glut in the New York gasoline hub, drawing interest from shippers in Europe at a time when buying historically eases at the end of August.
Expectation for increased flows pushed gasoline futures and margins to a two-week low after they surged last week to a more than three-month high.
European exports to North America of gasoline and naphtha, which is used for blending into gasoline, will jump in the coming weeks to the highest in months.
Total East Coast imports are set to reach nearly 850,000 barrels per day (bpd) by the end of August, doubling from a month earlier, according to traders and shipping data.
“Arbs were open for weeks in July and I think the paper hedges were put in place, but the ships were not fixed. So now you are seeing the ships getting fixed,” one East Coast trader said.
U.S. gasoline imports into the East Coast more than doubled to 910,000 bpd in the week ended Aug. 4, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. East Coast inventories jumped by 1.4 million barrels and remain above the five-year average.
The Colonial Pipeline, which connects the Gulf Coast to the populous Northeast, also signaled that demand to haul fuel on its gasoline line recovered after falling below capacity in June for the first time in six years.
Tuesday’s restart of Europe’s largest refinery, Royal Dutch Shell’s 404,000 bpd Pernis refinery in Rotterdam, is expected to support European gasoline exports.
Shell tentatively booked on Wednesday the Hafnia Phoenix to ship on August 13-14 a 37,000 ton (300,000 barrels) cargo of gasoline from northwest Europe to North America, according to shipping data.
While the arbitrage for summer-grade gasoline is currently closed, traders said many Transatlantic cargoes were locked in earlier this month when U.S. prices spiked.
The economics for European exports of winter-grade gasoline, which starts trading in fall, was marginally open, they said.
In what traders called a sign of weakening summer demand, winter-grade gasoline barrels were already seen offered in the New York harbor spot gasoline market.
Reporting by Ron Bousso in London and Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by David Gregorio