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Oil Posts Biggest Gain in Two Weeks on Shrinking U.S. Supplies

Andres Guerra Luz
·2-min read

(Bloomberg) -- Oil rose the most in two weeks after U.S. stockpiles declined last week but futures ended the month down nearly 6% as flareups in coronavirus cases continue to cloud prospects for a demand recovery.

Crude in New York climbed 2.4% on Wednesday after an Energy Information Administration report showed domestic crude inventories fell nearly 2 million barrels last week to the lowest level since April. U.S. crude pulled back from an earlier intraday high as optimism faded that lawmakers were making progress on passing new stimulus measures.

“Crude oil stocks unexpectedly started to decline at a rapid rate once again,” said Bart Melek, head of global commodity strategy at TD Securities. “This, along with steadfast demand and a surprisingly large gasoline inventory decline” suggests that the market is very likely to put to rest much of the concern that demand is going in reverse.

Still, global economies continue to struggle to contain the coronavirus. New Jersey is facing a recent uptick in coronavirus cases, with its test positivity rate at the highest in months. Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he won’t hesitate to impose new restrictions as governments across Europe are tightening measures to battle a Covid-19 resurgence.

“This stimulus package would be really helpful,” said Bill O’Grady, executive vice president at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis. “If you had a little more help, you’d have a better chance of demand getting closer to normal.”

Market signals point to further weakness for both benchmarks. WTI’s nearest December contract is trading around a $2.65-a-barrel discount to the December 2021 contract, compared to $2 a barrel at the end of August, while Brent’s December-December spread has also deepened its contango this month.

At the same time, the onset of the northern hemisphere’s fall season is sparking a fresh slump in commercial flights, adding further woes to the world’s oil refineries as they struggle with a glut of jet fuel that’s crushing profitability. The combined refining margin for gasoline and diesel, which serves as a rough profit gauge for processing a barrel of crude, fell toward $9 a barrel on Wednesday after trading above $10 in August.

Distillate stocks have been stubbornly high but posted their second straight decline last week, according to the EIA.

“The distillate inventories are still terribly high,” said Tom Finlon of GF International. “But directionally over the last couple of weeks, it’s starting to look a little better,” providing at the least a stabilizing influence for prices.

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