Oil prices struggled for clear direction on Wednesday, while gold was below the $900 level. But the Baltic Dry index extended its recent recovery.
ICE March Brent rose 47 cents to $44.20 a barrel, moving in a range between a low of $43.76 and a high of $45.
The latest US weekly inventories data showed a substantial rise in crude stocks last week, up 6.2m barrels, well above the consensus forecast for an increase of 2.9m barrels.
US consumption remained weak, with total product demand averaging 19.43m barrels a day over the past four weeks, down 4 per cent compared with the same period last year.
Refineries reduced activity with refinery utilisation down 0.8 percentage points to 82.5 per cent. Weak profit margins have prompted some refineries to start maintenance programmes earlier than normal.
Nymex March West Texas Intermediate fell 40 cents to $41.18 a barrel.
Crude stocks at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for WTI, rose 300,000 barrels to 33.5m barrels.
Cushing’s maximum storage capacity is about 42.2m barrels but only 80 per cent, roughly 34m barrels, is use-able at any one time.
High stocks at Cushing have again led to a widening spread – about $3 a barrel – between Brent, the European benchmark, and WTI, the US benchmark.
The rise in Cushing inventories also widened “time spreads” – the price difference for immediate delivery and forwards contracts – along the WTI futures curve.
Nymex April WTI traded 19 cents higher at $45.10 a barrel with the time spread between March and April at $3.92 a barrel.
Meanwhile, petrol and heating oil prices rose after bigger-than-expected stock declines last week.
Nymex March heating oil rose just under 3 cents to $1.3936 a gallon after distillate stocks (including heating oil) dropped 1m barrels, more than the consensus forecast for a decline of 700,000 barrels.
Nymex February RBOB unleaded gasoline gained 3.6 cents to $1.1435 a gallon after gasoline stocks fell 100,000 barrels, counter to the consensus forecast for an increase of 1.6m barrels.
Gold slipped 1.4 per cent to $884 a troy ounce, moving between a low of $881.10 and a high of $902.90. Rumours that Germany’s central bank was preparing to sell some of its gold reserves were dismissed by the Bundesbank, which said such speculation was unfounded.
The Bundesbank holds about 3,400 tonnes of gold (11 per cent of worldwide reserves). The speculation arose following comments from Steffen Kampeter, the Christian Democratic Party’s budget spokesman, who suggested the Bundesbank should sell gold to help alleviate the financial crisis.
In Chicago, soyabean prices could only manage modest gains in spite of Paraguay, the world’s fourth-largest exporter, saying bean output would drop to 3.8m tonnes in 2008-09, down 43 per cent on the previous 6.8m tonnes harvest.
CBOT March soyabeans gained 3 cents to $9.79 a bushel, trying to break above the 100-day moving average that would provide a buy signal for some technical traders. CBOT March wheat rose 5 cents to $5.89¾ cents a bushel while CBOT March corn traded flat at $3.77½ a bushel.
The Baltic Dry Index, the benchmark for shipping bulk commodities such as iron ore, coal and grains, continued its recovery for a seventh session, rising 1 per cent to 1,004 points.