Oil prices rose by more than $1 on Wednesday following a sharp drop in US crude stocks while platinum held above the $1,500 level after reaching a record in the previous session.
Nymex February West Texas Intermediate rose $1.16 to $91.24 a barrel while ICE February Brent added $1.36 cents at $91.48 a barrel.
Weather-related problems had a significant impact on the US inventories data with fog affecting the Houston Ship Channel, leading to a sharp fall in crude imports, down 952,000 barrels a day to 9.11m barrels last week.
The fall in imports was a major factor behind the drop of 7.6m barrels in US crude stocks last week, well above the consensus forecast for a decline of 1.6m barrels. US crude stocks have shrunk to their lowest level since February 2005.
Tim Evans of Citigroup said the majority of the fall in crude stocks could be attributed to the fog affecting the Houston Ship Channel. “It doesn’t necessarily indicate a drop in the availability of crude or in the overall rate of crude oil imports,” he said.
US heating oil prices rose after a fall of 2.1m barrels in distillate stocks (including heating oil), above the consensus forecast for a 0.5m barrels decline. Colder weather is boosting distillate demand, up 4.3 per cent compared to the same period last year, to average 4.4m b/d over the past four weeks. Nymex January heating oil rose 4.3 cents to $2.5980 a gallon.
Gains for crude and heating oil pulled petrol prices higher, with Nymex January RBOB unleaded gasoline up 3 cents at $2.3350 a gallon, despite a rise of 3m barrels in petrol stocks, well above the consensus forecast for a 1m barrel increase.
Platinum traded above the $1,500 level at $1,512 a troy ounce after hitting a record $1,519 in the previous session, supported by strong industrial demand and speculative buying.
Traders said speculators with long positions were trying to push the price higher to flatter year-end valuations, reminiscent of the squeeze seen late last year.
John Reade of UBS said the return of Chinese buying interest was a factor behind platinum’s recent price strength as retailers needed to replenish their stocks after a sharp increase in jewellery sales this year.
But Mr Reade advised caution on opening new long positions (bets on further gains) at current high price levels and with liquidity becoming constrained at the year-end.
“We continue to view platinum as a metal that investors should own (but) the issues are price and timing,” said Mr Reade: “We do not think that $1,500 is a level that investors should be jumping into new long (positions) in platinum. We are also wary of the time of the year: liquidity, something that the platinum market is never famous for, is already becoming constrained by the approaching festive season and year end.”
Gold consolidated around the $800 level, ending European trading little changed at $802.90.
Agricultural markets found support after Russia said it might limit grains exports in February and news that South Korea will cut import duties on wheat from January to control food price inflation.
CBOT March wheat rose 25 cents to $9.77 a bushel.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, a government economic research agency, warned global wheat prices would continue to rise next year “in response to historically low wheat stocks and strong import demand”.
The agency added: “Despite record coarse grains production, continued strong growth in demand, particularly for corn for ethanol production, will place upward pressure on prices.”
CBOT March corn added 2½ cents at $4.34½ a bushel.
ABARE also said a fall in oilseeds supplies, such as soyabeans, combined with an increase in demand, would also “place upward pressure on prices”. CBOT January soyabeans added 6¼ cents to $11.56 a bushel.
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