Refinery breakdowns from Kansas to Texas are giving gasoline a boost, spurring speculators to increase bullish bets for the first time in six weeks as the Labor Day holiday approaches.
Hedge funds raised net-long positions by 13 percent in the week ended Aug. 12, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. The wagers slumped 56 percent in the previous five weeks, while gasoline futures dropped 10 percent since the Memorial Day holiday on May 26, the traditional start of the driving season.
Bets on rising prices reached this year’s high in late April on speculation that peak summer demand would reduce supply. Inventories expanded to a four-month high in July, as refineries produced a record amount of fuel and consumption was stuck at the lowest seasonal level since 2012. The outages are unlikely to stem a decline in prices, according to AAA.
“The refinery outages spurred some buying,” John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy, said by phone on Aug. 15, “It’s certainly still a bearish market. The demand environment is not great, and there is plenty of gasoline coming into the market. We remain well-supplied.”
Gasoline futures gained 1.9 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $2.7345 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the period covered by the CFTC report. Prices today tumbled 1.6 percent to $2.656, the lowest settlement since Feb. 5.
Regular gasoline at the pump, averaged nationwide, sank to $3.454 a gallon yesterday, the lowest level since Feb. 28, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, the largest U.S. motoring group. The peak driving season typically runs through Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 1 this year.
“Refineries are making more than enough gasoline to meet domestic demand, which has helped push gas prices to the lowest level for this time of year since 2010,” Michael Green, a Washington-based AAA spokesman, said by e-mail Aug. 14. “It seems unlikely that an increase in road trips over Labor Day weekend would reverse this summer’s gas price decline based on current conditions.”
A fluid catalytic cracker at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s 344,600-barrel-a-day Beaumont, Texas, refinery was shut after a malfunction July 25. CVR Energy Inc. closed the 115,000-barrel-a-day Coffeyville refinery in Kansas after a July 29 fire.
U.S. refineries operated at 91.6 percent of capacity in the week ended Aug. 8, down from 93.8 percent in July, according to the Energy Information Administration. Gasoline production was 9.52 million barrels a day, the most for this time of year since since EIA began weekly data in 1982.
Demand averaged 9.02 million barrels a day in the four weeks ended Aug. 8, the lowest seasonal level since 2012, according to the EIA, the Energy Department’s statistical arm. Inventories rose to 218.2 million barrels as of July 25, the most since March.
“Stocks are ample, output is rising and demand will see structural decline for years.” analysts at Bank of America Corp. including Francisco Blanch, the bank’s head of commodities research in New York, said in a report Aug. 12.
Global refining capacity rose to a record 94.9 million barrels a day by the end of 2013, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy. U.S. capacity reached a record 17.9 million this year, according to the EIA.
“Too many refiners and too little demand, and that’s the problem,” Robert Campbell, the New York-based head of oil products research at Energy Aspects Ltd., a London-based research firm, said by phone Aug. 14. “Refining capacity worldwide continues to grow rapidly relative to demand.”
Hedge funds and other money managers boosted net-long positions in gasoline by 3,752 futures and options to 32,916 in the week ended Aug. 12, the CFTC said Aug. 15 in its weekly Commitments of Traders report. That’s the biggest increase since June. Long positions grew by 2,233 to 60,972, while shorts slipped by 1,519 to 28,056.
In other markets, bearish wagers on ultra low sulfur diesel shrank by 30 percent to 13,103 contracts. The fuel dropped 0.19 cent to $2.845 a gallon in the report week.
Net longs on U.S. natural gas decreased 14 percent to 131,124 futures equivalents. The measure includes an index of four contracts adjusted to futures equivalents: Nymex natural gas futures, Nymex Henry Hub Swap Futures, Nymex ClearPort Henry Hub Penultimate Swaps and the ICE Futures U.S. Henry Hub contract. Nymex natural gas rose 7.7 cents to $3.974 per million British thermal units during the report week.
Net-long positions in benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell by 7.4 percent to 218,814 futures and options, the lowest since June 2013. WTI dropped 1 cent to $97.37 a barrel in the report week.
Crude jumped 1.9 percent on Aug. 15 after Ukraine said its forces attacked and partially destroyed a convoy entering the country from Russia. Prices retreated as much as 0.8 percent in today’s electronic trading to $96.58.
“It’s a fundamentally bearish market, subject to all the geopolitical uncertainties that we have no control over,” said James Williams, an economist at WTRG Economics, an energy-research firm in London, Arkansas, by phone Aug. 15. “Refiners have been running at a pretty high rate, and demand has been weak. We are probably in for more continued weakness.”