Oil Falls to 22-Month Low

Crude oil fell for a fourth day, dropping below $54 to its lowest in 22 months, on expectations U.S. inventories gained last week as fuel demand in the world’s largest user declined.

Stockpiles probably climbed 1 million barrels last week while refinery output is likely to have fallen for a third week, according to the median of analyst estimates before an Energy Department report today. BASF SE, the world’s largest chemical company, said it will temporarily shutter about 80 factories because of a massive decline” in demand.

Crude oil for December delivery fell as much as $1.09, or 2 percent, to $53.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That’s the lowest since Jan. 23, 2007. It traded at $53.71 a barrel at 1:18 p.m. London time.

The December future expires tomorrow. The more active January contract was down 86 cents at $52.83 a barrel.

Oil has dropped 63 percent since reaching a record $147.27 in July. Futures fell 56 cents, or 1 percent, to $54.39 a barrel yesterday, the lowest settlement since Jan. 29, 2007.

U.S. gasoline purchases fell for a 30th consecutive week, MasterCard Inc. said yesterday. Purchases of gasoline in the U.S. fell 2.8 percent last week, MasterCard Inc. said in its weekly SpendingPulse statement.

China’s economy may grow by less than 9 percent in the fourth quarter of this year as overseas demand weakens, the China Securities Journal reported, citing People’s Bank of China adviser Fan Gang.

The Asian nation’s economic expansion may slip to below 8 percent next year before rebounding to between 8 and 9 percent in 2010, the Xinhua News Agency-affiliated newspaper said today, citing Fan’s interview. The country is the world’s second- biggest oil consumer.

Most Asian stocks fell today, led by commodity producers as oil and metals prices dropped. Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Australia’s second-largest oil company, lost as much as 6.3 percent. Cnooc Ltd., China’s biggest offshore explorer, fell 1.8 percent to HK$5.60.

Refineries probably operated at 84.5 percent of capacity, down 0.1 percentage point from the week before, the survey of 12 analysts showed. The plants used 87 percent of their capacity a year ago as they raised their output to produce heating fuels.

Analysts were split over whether gasoline stockpiles rose or fell last week. Supplies were probably unchanged from 198.1 million barrels the week before, according to the survey.

Supplies of distillate fuel, a category that includes heating oil and diesel, rose 600,000 barrels from 128.4 million barrels the week before, according to the survey.

The Energy Department is scheduled to release its weekly report today at 10:35 a.m. in Washington.

Brent crude oil for January settlement was at $51.34 a barrel, down 50 cents, on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange at 1:11 p.m. in London. The contract declined yesterday 47 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $51.84 a barrel, the lowest settlement since Jan. 18, 2007.

TradingEconomics.com, Bloomberg.com
11/19/2008 5:54:35 AM