Diesel Falters as El Nino Takes Bite From U.S. Winter Demand

  • Distillate supplies highest seasonally in more than decade
  • Strong El Nino seen keeping U.S. Northeast weather mild

Diesel is the cheapest versus gasoline for this time of year in at least a decade as inventories surge and mild temperatures reduce heating demand.

Ultra low sulfur diesel on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled at 0.72 cents a gallon more expensive than gasoline Wednesday, compared with the previous low for Dec. 9 of 5.2 cents in 2009. Diesel is typically pricier than gasoline in the winter as more fuel is burned to heat homes, on top of normal transportation demand.

Distillate supplies in the U.S. grew by 5 million barrels last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, pushing supplies to the highest level for this time of year since 2010. A strong El Nino this winter is expected to keep temperatures above average in the Northeast, where a majority of heating oil demand is located. The typical household that uses oil will burn about 533 gallons this winter, down from 609 a year ago, according to the EIA.

“Traditionally, the industry knows that heating oil demand goes up in the winter, and as a result it will be pulling inventories,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC. “As we go into this winter, though, we have total distillate inventories about 25 percent higher than last year, at the same time that weather forecasters are calling for a mild winter.”

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