Crude Oil Posts Large Gain On Last Day Of 2008

Crude oil futures closed the last day of trading in 2008 posting 14% gains as the bulls emerged from their hideouts. Still, futures are down 54 percent this year, the first annual decline since 2001, and down around 70% from the July all-time high of $147.27/barrel.

Whilst Energy Dept data shows that US gasoline & distillate inventories rose in the week to 26 Dec, the increases were much lower than anticipated.

US refineries operated at 82.5 percent of capacity last week, down 2.2 percentage points from the week before and the lowest since the period ended Oct. 10 when the Gulf Coast was recovering from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Gasoline stockpiles increased by 800,000 barrels, less than forecasts for a 1.5-1.7 million barrel build, while distillates rose by 700,000 barrels, below expectations for a 1.1-1.5 million barrel increase.

The news is of particular interest as refiners often shut units for maintenance in late January and February as heating-oil demand falls and before gasoline use rises. Whilst the data does confirm that US consumers are continuing to use less, a heavy shutdown period in the new year could soon turn a surplus into a deficit, analysts said.

A dispute between Russia and Ukraine over gas supplies may see Ukraine forced to turn to Europe for supplies in the new year. Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom said on Wednesday that talks with Ukraine over gas prices for 2009 have failed, making a cut-off of gas to Ukraine on January1 unavoidable.

Signs that OPEC members are finally biting the bullet and adhering to quota cuts, and the ongoing tensions in the Middle East added to the nervous tone.

To keep prices at the recent recent extreme lows, the world needs to be a quiet place both economically and geopolitically.