Retail Gasoline Sets Season Record as Plants Shut, Oil Rises

Retail gasoline prices in the U.S. rose to a record for this time of year amid a decline in refinery production because of breakdowns and seasonal maintenance and an eight-week rally in crude futures.

Regular gasoline in the U.S. climbed 7.3 cents, or 2.1 percent, from a week earlier to $3.611 a gallon yesterday, the highest level since Oct. 22 and a record for this time of year, according to data compiled by the Energy Information Administration, an Energy Department agency. West Texas Intermediate oil futures have gained more than $10 a barrel since mid-December and on Feb. 1 capped the longest stretch of weekly advances in more than eight years.

Retail gasoline has also climbed for eight straight weeks as refiners make up for the rise in crude costs. Gasoline production in the U.S. is at a three-week low as plants including Chevron Corp.’s El Segundo refinery near Los Angeles and LyondellBasell Industries NV’s Houston site in Texas perform maintenance turnarounds.

“Pick a coast, and we have refineries down, and then you had the price of crude soar,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Prices Futures Group in Chicago, said by telephone yesterday. “Supplies are more than ample right now, and it seems crude prices should continue to work lower. That and refineries coming off maintenance, should start to bring down gasoline.”

Crude Inventories

Crude stockpiles in the U.S. increased 0.7 percent to 371.7 million barrels in the seven days ended Feb. 1, the EIA said Feb. 6. They probably added another 2.2 million last week, according to the median of 10 analyst estimates before the agency’s next report tomorrow.

Oil for March delivery gained 48 cents to settle at $97.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest price since Feb. 1, after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries raised its demand forecast.

Gasoline supplies rose 1.74 million barrels, or 0.8 percent, to 234 million in the week ended Feb. 1, the EIA data showed. Inventories probably increased 500,000 barrels last week to 234.5 million, the Bloomberg survey shows.

Output of the motor-fuel dropped 3.3 percent from the week before to 8.76 million barrels a day in the period ended Feb. 1, the lowest level since Jan. 11. Consumption increased 1.2 percent to 8.42 million barrels a day in the four weeks to Feb. 1, the EIA said.

Retail Gasoline

Retail gasoline prices rose yesterday in all five regions of the U.S., the agency said. The Rocky Mountain area saw the biggest gain, of 13 cents, to $3.274 a gallon.

HollyFrontier Corp.’s 52,000-barrel-a-day Cheyenne refinery in Wyoming shut a delayed coker unit on Jan. 16 after a fire. Less than a week earlier, Chevron’s Salt Lake City refinery in Utah shut multiple units after an electrical failure.

Regular gasoline on the U.S. West Coast rose 12.9 cents yesterday to $3.867 a gallon, the highest average price in the U.S. Chevron, BP Plc, Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy Corp. have all shut process units at their refineries in Southern California for planned repairs.

Gasoline gained the least on the Gulf Coast, where it increased 5.1 cents to $3.383 a gallon.

Lyondell’s 265,000-barrel-a-day Houston refinery began a turnaround earlier this month on a crude unit and a coker that’s expected to be completed before the end of March.

(Update with oil inventory forecast in fifth paragraph and prices in sixth paragraph.)
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