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Bloomberg: Crude Oil Rises With Gasoline on U.S., European Refining Risks

By Christian Schmollinger

April 27 (Bloomberg) — Crude oil rose in New York after a refinery fire and the threat of a production strike in Europe pushed gasoline futures higher for an eighth day.

Gasoline reached an eight-month high of $2.32 a gallon yesterday after a fire at Marathon Oil Corp.’s Garryville, Louisiana, unit and Belgian workers voted to strike at four refineries in Antwerp next month. U.S. gasoline stockpiles fell for an 11th week after the processing utilization rate dropped to 87.8 percent, the Energy Department said April 25.

“Normally the utilization rate will come back to 97 percent as we head to May and June but the market is suspicious of a recovery,” said Nahiro Niimura, director of commodities at Barclays Capital in Tokyo. “That along with the Belgian workers union makes the market situation unstable.”

Crude oil for June delivery rose as much as 38 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $65.44 a barrel, in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was at $65.34 at 2 p.m. in Singapore.

Oil reached $66.40 yesterday, the highest intraday price for the front-month contract since April 2. It closed 78 cents, or 1.2 percent, lower at $65.06.

In London, Brent crude oil for June settlement was at $67.94 a barrel, up 29 cents, in electronic trading on the ICE Futures exchange at 1:59 p.m. Singapore time.

“We need to make 2.5 million barrels a week or we’re in big trouble” when gasoline demand picks up next month, said Chris Mennis, owner of oil broker New Wave Energy LLC in Aptos, California. “But I doubt it’s going to happen.”

Oil Stockpiles

Gasoline for May delivery rose as much as 1.07 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $2.3010 a gallon in after-hours trading. It closed at $2.2903 a gallon yesterday, the highest since Aug. 7, and is up almost 8 percent this week after a spate of fires and breakdowns at U.S. refineries.

The profit, or crack spread, between front month gasoline futures and the June crude oil contract rose to $27.71 a barrel from $27.66 yesterday.

U.S. oil stockpiles rose last week to 334.5 million barrels and are 4.9 percent above the five-year average for the period. Gasoline inventories are 7.2 percent below the five-year average for the period.

“The fact is that even current extraordinary profitability in the refining sector cannot stop the above-normal stock draw,” said Makota Takeda, energy analyst at Bansei Securities Co. in Tokyo in an e-mail.

Marathon Oil yesterday shut a 115,000 barrel-a-day catalytic cracking unit at its Garryville facility after a fire, Energy News Today reported. Linda Casey, a Marathon spokeswoman confirmed the fire to Bloomberg News. She wouldn’t say whether the unit was closed or if output was affected.

Christians, Socialists

Belgium’s two largest oil unions, the Socialists and the Christians, voted yesterday to start striking in May. The Socialists picked May 20 to allow for more negotiations while the Christians plan to start on May 10.

May gasoline is trading at an 8.5 cent premium to the June contract, the highest for the front-month contract since August.

That is a sign investors think the fuel shortage is a short- term issue, New Wave’s Mennis said. Gasoline may plunge once refiners increase output, and investors should avoid trading either gasoline or oil if they can avoid it, he said.

“Oil really struggles over $66,” because Nigeria may increase production next month and on expectations talks between Iran and the United Nations will “limp along” without threatening oil supplies, he said.

Nigeria is seeking an increase in its OPEC production quota by 690,000 barrels to 2.75 million barrels a day, Dow Jones Newswires reported yesterday, citing a Nigerian National Petroleum Co. official it didn’t name. Royal Dutch Shell Plc will restore production in the country’s western delta by the end of May, Energy Minister Edmund Daukoru said April 18.

Iran is the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Almost a quarter of the world’s oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christian Schmollinger in Singapore at [email protected] .

Last Updated: April 27, 2007 02:09 EDT

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