By Ben Sharples
Oil advanced for a third day in New York on concern flooding of the Mississippi River and a drop in U.S. gasoline stockpiles will restrict fuel supplies before the start of the driving season in the world’s biggest crude- consuming nation.
Futures gained as much as 0.7 percent today as the flood moved south from Memphis, threatening refineries and shipping traffic. U.S. gasoline inventories fell last week, the American Petroleum Institute reported. Oil presents a “short-term buying opportunity” because of constraints to supply and growing demand, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“Flooding along the Mississippi River is threatening refinery operations,” Michael Wittner, head of oil-market research at Societe Generale SA in New York, said in a note. That is “bullish for gasoline, which has pulled up crude.”
Crude for June delivery climbed as much as 72 cents to $104.60 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and was at $104.06 at 12:06 p.m. Sydney time. Yesterday, it rose $1.33 to $103.88, the highest since May 4. Prices are 37 percent higher the past year.
Brent crude for June settlement traded at $117.61 a barrel, down 2 cents, on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Yesterday, it gained $1.73, or 1.5 percent, to $117.63, the highest settlement since May 4.
The Mississippi is holding just below 48 feet (14.6 meters) in Memphis, Tennessee. Three million acres, an area almost the size of Connecticut, may go under water as the flooding moves south, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said at a press conference in Baton Rouge, the state capital.
Gasoline futures climbed 3.1 percent yesterday as the rising waters threatened refineries and shipping. A total of 11 plants, accounting for 13 percent of U.S. fuel output, are located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, according to Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston.
Valero Energy Corp., the largest U.S. refiner, reduced operations at its Memphis plant to between 80 percent and 85 percent of capacity because of flooding, according to people familiar with operation. The plant has a capacity of 195,000 barrels a day.
To relieve the threat to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the corps may open the Morganza Spillway. Opening the spillway halfway would inundate a swath of central Louisiana along the Atchafalaya River with 5 feet to 20 feet of water.
Louisiana declined to identify the refineries that may be affected. One of the plants is on the Mississippi River, the statement said, citing the state’s Department of Natural Resources fuel team. Alon USA Energy Inc.’s Krotz Springs refinery in Louisiana will be affected if the spillway is opened, Lisa Vidrine, director of the St. Landry Parish office of emergency preparedness, said in a telephone interview.
Flooding after the opening of the spillway may result in “reducing operating capacity to 75 percent for two weeks and then further significant reductions,” according to the DNR.
The 104,532-ton tanker Zaliv Baikal was prevented from delivering crude to Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Baton Rouge refinery because of concern that the ship wouldn’t fit under the Interstate 10 bridge spanning the Mississippi River.
U.S. stockpiles of gasoline shrank 1.8 million barrels last week from the previous week, according to the API report. An Energy Department report today will probably show supplies fell 750,000 barrels, according to the median estimate of 17 analysts in a survey by Bloomberg News. Supply disruptions after May 6 wouldn’t be reflected in the department’s report.
The peak gasoline demand period starts after the Memorial Day holiday in late May and ends on Labor Day in early September. The holidays fall on May 30 and Sept. 5 this year.
U.S. crude stockpiles climbed 2.95 million barrels last week to 367.2 million, according to the API report. An Energy Department report today may show supplies rose 1.5 million barrels, a Bloomberg News survey shows.
The most-active oil option was the July $115 call, which gives investors the right to buy crude for July delivery at $115 a barrel. The contract rose 15 percent to $1.44 after more than doubling on May 9.
New York futures have climbed 14 percent this year as unrest in the Middle East and North Africa toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and spread to Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Syria and Yemen.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets intensified strikes on the Libyan capital of Tripoli, including what the alliance identified as “command-and-control” bunkers from which Muammar Qaddafi is carrying out a campaign against rebels.
Brent, the European benchmark, traded at a premium of $13.52 a barrel to U.S. futures today. The difference between front-month contracts in London and New York surged to a record $19.54 on Feb. 21. It averaged 76 cents last year.
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