Retail gasoline prices in the U.S. declined for the first time this year as seasonal refinery maintenance nears an end and fuel producers prepare to restore supplies in the market.
Regular gasoline in the U.S. fell for the first time in 11 weeks, declining 2.5 cents, or 0.7 percent, from a week earlier to $3.759 a gallon yesterday, according to data compiled by the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistical arm.
Retail gasoline prices are at the highest ever for this time of year as planned refinery repairs exacerbated a decline from last year in supplies on the U.S. East Coast. This week’s drop ends the longest streak of price increases at the pumps since September, driven up by the plant maintenance and a switch to more expensive summer-grade fuel production.
“We’ve reached the peak in retail gasoline,” Dave Hackett, president of oil consultant Stillwater Associates, said by telephone from Irvine, California, yesterday. “Barring something odd happening with crude oil prices, I think we’ve got a month’s worth of relief ahead of us.”
West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery slid 56 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $90.12 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, the lowest settlement price since Dec. 24. Prices fell to $89.33 in intraday trading.
Crude stockpiles in the U.S. climbed 0.3 percent to 377.5 million barrels in the seven days ended Feb. 22, the EIA said Feb. 27. They probably added another 788,000 barrels, or 0.2 percent, last week, according to a median of 10 analyst estimates before the agency’s next report tomorrow.
Gasoline supplies fell 0.8 percent in the week ended Feb. 22 to 228.5 million barrels, the EIA data showed. Output of the motor-fuel rose 3.1 percent in the same period to 9.21 million barrels a day, the agency said.
Phillips 66 (PSX:US)’s Sweeny refinery in Texas finished a planned maintenance turnaround and was restarting units late last month. Motiva Enterprises LLC’s Port Arthur plant in Texas, the largest U.S. refinery, is expected to return equipment to service before the end of March after scheduled work.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions is nearing the end of its own 40-day turnaround on a crude unit at the Girard Point section of the East Coast’s largest refinery.
Gasoline futures for April delivery declined 3.03 cents to settle at $3.0983 a gallon on the Nymex yesterday as refiners wrapped up maintenance. April’s premium over the May contract narrowed to 3 cents from 4 cents a gallon on March 1, indicating supplies may increase as plants boost production after seasonal maintenance.
West Coast Rises
Retail gasoline prices fell yesterday in the U.S. East Coast, the Midwest and the Gulf Coast. They continued to rise in the Rocky Mountain region and the West Coast.
Prices dropped the most on the Gulf Coast, declining 4.8 cents to $3.576 a gallon, and climbed the most on the West Coast, rising 1.6 cents to $4.069 a gallon, the EIA said.
Chevron Corp. (CVX:US) is performing maintenance on the fluid catalytic cracker at its El Segundo plant, California’s largest refinery. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:US)’s Torrance refinery near Los Angeles was scheduled to shut several units early this month for about 30 days of repairs, a person with knowledge of the schedule said Nov. 12.
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