Oil rises ahead of U.S. stocks data

July 19, 2007 - 0:0

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Oil prices rose Wednesday ahead of the release of U.S. government fuel stocks data that were expected to show the country’s supplies of crude fell last week.

Forecasts that the report would show an increase in gasoline supplies — a key focus of trader interest during the high-demand U.S. driving season — kept Nymex benchmark crude price increases in check, however. Light, sweet crude for August delivery gained 22 cents to $74.24 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by afternoon in Europe. The contract ended 13 cents lower at $74.02 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude rose 27 cents to $75.80 on London’s ICE Futures exchange. Traders have been paying particular attention to refinery utilization, which at 90.2 percent remains below the average of 94 percent of operating capacity for this time of year. Refinery utilization is expected to rise by an average 0.5 percentage point to 90.7 percent of operating capacity, topping the key 90 percent level for the third straight week. With refinery activity predicted to increase, most analysts expect crude stocks to fall by 760,000 barrels. Gasoline inventories are seen rising by an average 560,000 barrels, and distillate stocks, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, are expected to increase by 780,000 barrels. Vienna’s PVM Oil Associates said the figures reflected a turnaround in gasoline availability from last year. “The world’s supply potential for gasoline has changed from tight in 2006 to one of surplus in 2007, in the order of around 200,000” barrels a day, “which is projected to more than double in 2008,” it said. Heating oil futures were up more than a cent at $2.0449 a gallon (3.8 liters). Natural gas slipped 3.6 cents to $6.271 per 1,000 cubic feet. Mixed news on U.S. refineries have also affected prices. Exxon Mobil Corp. said Tuesday that planned maintenance on a crude oil processing unit at its Beaumont, Texas, refinery was finished, and the unit had restarted operations during the weekend. Somewhat offsetting that restart, a processing unit at Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s smaller Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery was shut Monday after power failure, according to a report filed with state regulators