US petrol prices are rising strongly, encouraging refineries to maximise production, even as they struggle with lacklustre demand for jet fuel due to international quarantine restrictions.

Based on futures prices, gross margins for making petrol from US crude oil have surged to more than $24 per barrel, up from just $10 at the start of the year, and the highest level since 2015.

Driving the rise in prices is a much faster recovery in demand for petrol than for other oil products as economies reopen. Margins are now in the 84th percentile for all weeks since the start of 2006, giving refiners a strong incentive to maximise production, even as they hold back output of other fuels.

Rising margins have pushed the average retail cost of petrol above $3 per gallon (3.8 litres), its highest level since 2014, according to nationwide pump prices compiled by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Petrol accounted for 63% of the total output of the big three fuels (including diesel and jet) last week, among the highest weekly shares since 2009/10.

Petrol inventories amounted to 234-million barrels, less than 1% above the pre-epidemic five-year average for 2015-2019

Consumption was just 3% below the pre-epidemic five-year average, with stay-at-home orders lifted, travel to work restarting and most businesses open.

Consumption has recovered much faster than for products as a whole, still down almost 6% last week, or refineries’ crude processing, down almost 9%. High margins will ensure refiners squeeze as much petrol out of the process as possible — even as they continue to limit crude runs to avoid producing unwanted jet fuel. /London, May 19



Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.