Crude Oil Falls a Fifth Day

Crude oil fell for a fifth day to the lowest in almost four years after a report showed U.S. fuel demand extended declines because of the country’s deepening economic slump.

The average amount of fuel products such as gasoline and diesel supplied by refiners for the past four weeks was 7.9 percent less than a year earlier, according to a U.S. Energy Department report yesterday. The U.S. Labor Department will probably say tomorrow that payrolls fell the most since the 2001 terrorist attacks last month.

Crude oil for January delivery today dropped as much as $1.49, or 3.2 percent, to $45.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That’s the lowest since Feb. 9, 2005. It was at $46.11 a barrel at 11:45 a.m. London time.

Futures have tumbled 69 percent after reaching a record $147.27 on July 11.

The four-week average of petroleum products supplied in the U.S. was 19.3 million barrels a day, down from 20.9 million barrels a day a year ago, the Energy Department report showed.

Refineries operated at 84.3 percent of capacity, down 1.8 percentage points from the week before. It was the biggest one- week drop since September, when hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. entered a recession in December 2007, the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, non-profit panel of economists that dates American business cycles, said on Dec. 1.

Crude-oil supplies fell 456,000 barrels to 320.4 million barrels last week, the first decline in 10 weeks, the department said. Inventories were forecast to rise 1 million barrels, according to the median of 13 responses in a Bloomberg survey.

Supplies at Cushing, Oklahoma, where New York-traded West Texas Intermediate oil is stored, climbed 2.35 million barrels to 22.9 million last week. The increase left inventories at their highest since June 2007.

The price difference between gasoline futures and oil contracts, known as the crack spread and seen as a profit margin for refiners, was at minus $3.07 a barrel. The crack has been negative for almost two months, reducing the incentive to process fuels.

Gasoline stockpiles dropped 1.53 million barrels to 198.9 million in the week ended Nov. 28. Supplies of distillate fuel, a category that includes heating oil and diesel, fell 1.72 million barrels to 125 million last week.

Brent crude oil for January settlement fell as much as $1.64, or 3.6 percent, to $43.80 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange, and traded at $44.79 at 11:21 a.m. London time.

Oil prices have dropped as the U.S., Japan and Europe are all in recession for the first time since World War II.,
12/4/2008 5:36:01 AM