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US Gulf Coast gasoline inventories shed on stable exports, EIA

Highlights

Gulf Coast gasoline inventories shed despite demand contraction

Refinery run cuts expected

Houston — The US Gulf Coast regional gasoline inventories for the week ended March 20 contracted marginally week on week to 82.3 million barrels on stable exports, despite the drastic demand reduction, the Energy Information Administration data showed Wednesday.

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EIA data showed a drastic weekly fall in demand of 859,000 b/d, to a seven-week low of 8.8 million b/d for the week ended March 20, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 13 states asking non-essential businesses to shutter and their workers to remain home, account for more than 40% of US demand because of its highly concentrated population.

The delay of the quarantine mandates in Latin America supported export demand, which fell by a slightly 2,000 b/d to 749,000 b/d. This is barely 50,000 b/d lower than a year ago, and 60,000 b/d above the last five-year average at this time.

The continued exports probably added support to the USGC finished regular price, which rose 7.24 cents/gal on Wednesday, to 47.29 cents/gal, also on the back of stronger futures market.

Market sources expected the USGC refineries to cut runs since last week, however, only one state from the PADD 3 -- Louisiana -- is among the 13 states asking non-essential businesses to shutter and their workers to remain home. The addition of Harris County, Texas, to the list on March 24, could accelerate the refinery cuts. Eight refineries, which represent around 9% of the US' total refinery capacity, are in the county.

Over the weekend, ExxonMobil had cut run rates at its 502,500 b/d Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery by 70,000 b/d, as the company moves to minimum staffing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, sources familiar with refinery operations said Monday.

On March 24, Phillips 66 announced it had cut back to minimum rates at its 13 refineries in the US and abroad, and is now expecting first-quarter refinery utilization rates to be in the low to mid-80% range, compared with the original forecast of 90%.

The low run rates will likely be reflected on the EIA data next week. Meanwhile, refinery utilization showed an increment to 90.1%, from 89.6% last week, most likely supported by refinery margins.

According to Platts Dimensions, the margins for the USGC refineries remain in positive territory. For a USGC refinery with coking operations using heavy Maya crude, the current margin is estimated at plus $5.92/b, well above the lowest level of minus $3.88/b seen in December 2011. For a Gulf Coast refinery with catalytic cracking operations using the LLS light crude, the margin would be plus $3.81/b, compared with minus 76 cents/b in December 2014.