Oil Gains as Bulls Latch on to Weak Dollar After U.S. Stockpile Jump

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Oil Gains as Bulls Latch on to Weak Dollar After U.S. Stockpile Jump
Credit: © Reuters.

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com -- From foe to friend: the dollar’s about-turn over the past week has helped oil longs find their feet in a market still beset with volatility and less-than-flattering fundamentals.

Despite government data showing a jump in crude oil inventories last week, crude prices rose strongly Wednesday for their first breakout since Oct. 19 as players leveraged on a weak dollar and a corresponding tumble in Treasury yields.

“It’s a risk-on day across markets and oil is benefiting from that, although crude’s fundamentals, on their own, are questionable,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.

New York-traded West Texas Intermediate , the benchmark for U.S. crude, was up $2.89, or 3.4%, at $88.39 a barrel by 13:02 ET, after seeing little moves in three of the past four sessions.

London-traded Brent crude , the global benchmark for oil, was up $2.31, or 2.5%, at $94.05 per barrel. 

The Dollar Index , which pits the greenback against the euro, yen, pound, Canadian dollar, Swedish krona and Swiss franc, fell for a fifth day in a row, sliding below 110 from a high of nearly 115 on Sept. 28.

Bond yields, benchmarked to the 10-year Treasury note , were at 4.007, versus an Oct. 21 peak of 4.338.

The dollar and yields tanked after data from the Commerce Department showed U.S. new home sales down 11% in September, reversing the large gain from the prior month, as spiraling lending rates choked off prospective buyers.

The tumble in home sales was an indication that the Federal Reserve could back off from its aggressive rate-hike regime that had weighed on risk across markets.

The Fed has raised key U.S. lending rates by 300 basis points from a base of just 25 in February in a bid to fight inflation at four-decade highs. 

The central bank said it has some way to go before it can consider a pause or reduction in rates, and that another 125 basis points will likely be added before the end of this year. The only caveat to this would be weak economic data, the Fed said — and that’s exactly what markets were betting on Wednesday via the drop in home sales.

On the oil front itself, U.S. crude inventories rose by 2.588 million barrels last month, against expectations for a build of 1.029 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

The build in crude stockpiles came despite record high exports of crude for last week, averaging at 5.129 million barrels per day, versus a relatively-small outflow of 3.4 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Crude stockpiles rose on lower refining activity across most of the United States, with utilization rates at below 90% on the average — except for the East Coast, where demand for fuels kept utilization at virtually 100% as refineries ran at full steam.

Gasoline inventories , meanwhile, fell by 1.478 million barrels, against expectations for a draw of 0.805 million barrels — serving as the outlier for the EIA data. Gasoline prices rose more than 1% Wednesday.

Distillate stockpiles, however, rose for a second week in a row, rising by 170,000 barrels last week, versus expectations for a draw of 1.138 million barrels. In the previous week, inventories of distillates — alternatively known as heating oil and as Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel — rose by 124,000 barrels.

U.S. heating oil prices rose 3% on Wednesday, after an 11% plunge over the past three weeks — unusual for this time of year when prices should actually be higher in the runup to winter.

To be sure, heating oil shows an annual gain of 55%. Distillates don’t just produce heating oil; they are also refined into the diesel needed for trucks, buses, trains and maritime vessels, as well as the fuel for jets. 

Despite their diversity in use, the bulk of heating oil’s annual price gain now is a carry-forward of the supply hype from March, when fears of a run-out of the commodity in the aftermath of the Ukraine war sent the commodity to record highs. 

The reality since is that the supply situation hasn’t really matched the pitch those fears were initially voiced at. This is similar to the dynamics revolving around natural gas , where a global cat-and-mouse game of the highest stakes is being played by the Russians versus the West over the use of gas as a weapon or wartime bargaining chip.

Heating oil futures hit a three-week low of $3.52 per gallon in Monday’s trading session after the surprise distillate build of 124,000 barrels announced by EIA for the week to Oct. 14 coincided with unseasonably warm temperatures for mid-to-late October. 

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