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Refined products rally as storm disrupts USGC refinery operations

New York — NYMEX refined products futures jumped Thursday as Tropical Depression Imelda disrupted refinery operations in Texas.

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Front-month RBOB settled 4.30 cents higher at $1.7007/gal, while front-month ULSD settled 3.16 cents higher at $2.0049/gal.

The rally caused crack spreads to jump as well. The ICE front-month RBOB futures crack spread vs Brent closed at $5.45/b, up from $4.86/b Wednesday and $3.64/b Monday.

The ICE front-month ULSD futures crack spread vs Brent closed at $19.58/b, up from $19.17/b Wednesday and $18.32/b Monday.

The remains of Tropical Depression Imelda inundated the Port Arthur and Beaumont areas near the Texas-Louisiana state line with severe rain storms and flooding.

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ExxonMobil said it has finished the shutdown of the units at its Beaumont, Texas, chemical plant because of flooding, and its 369,024 b/d Beaumont refinery was heard to be preparing to shut Thursday morning, sources said.

The refining complex was heard to be running at "minimal rates" with "minimal personnel" early Thursday, sources told S&P Global Platts.

"ExxonMobil continues preparations for severe weather at its Beaumont complex," spokesman Jeremy Eikenberry said Thursday in an email.

Total's 225,000 b/d refining complex in Port Arthur, Texas, was understood to be running at reduced rates Thursday.

Total said it is monitoring the situation and "making some decisions" for the safety and security of employees, but that it does not comment on the status of actual refinery operations.

"I heard they were evacuating," one market source said.

Valero's 335,000 b/d Port Arthur refinery was monitoring the storm as of late morning Thursday, company spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said.

JET SPOT DIFFS CLIMB

The outages also boosted spot price differentials for jet fuel on the USGC as well.

S&P Global Platts assessed benchmark Gulf Coast jet fuel at the NYMEX October ULSD futures contract minus 4.05 cents/gal, up 2.30 cents from Wednesday.

Elsewhere, the Sabine ship channel closed early Thursday due to local flooding and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Imelda, according to GAC Shipping newsflash for the Beaumont area. The Sabine-Neches waterway connects Beaumont and Port Arthur to the Gulf of Mexico.

Shipping sources saw no immediate effect on freight Thursday.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Imelda was expected to bring more ran through Friday into the east Texas and southwest Louisiana.

Currently, gasoline is well-supplied relative to diesel. US Gulf Coast gasoline stocks at 78.65 million barrels last week were roughly on par with the five-year average, while US Atlantic Coast stocks at 62.35 million barrels were 7.4% above the five-year average, the US Energy Information Administration data showed.

In contrast, combined low and ultra low sulfur diesel stocks were roughly 11% below the five-year average on the USAC, and 9% below on the USGC.

CRUDE EDGES HIGHER

Crude oil futures were slightly higher Thursday amid continued nervousness on the geopolitical fallout from Saturday's attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.

NYMEX front-month crude settled 2 cents higher at $58.13/b, while ICE front-month Brent settled 80 cents higher at $64.40/b.

The Cushing, Oklahoma-delivered NYMEX crude contract likely lagged Brent gains because of the refinery outages, which would reduce demand for crude, and possibly lead to another crude inventory build.

USGC crude inventories climbed 2.01 million barrels last week as area refiners began reducing runs for fall maintenance, EIA data showed.

The oil market remains "sensitive" to the geopolitical fallout from the attacks on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq plant and Khurais oil field Saturday, according to Geordie Wilkes, an analyst at Sucden UK.

"Brent has technical support from the 200-day moving average at $63.36/b. It bounced off that nicely, and is now testing $65/b. As long as oil stays above the moving average, upward momentum is on the front foot," Wilkes said.

Saudi Arabia and the US have put the blame, at least in part, on Iran. Iran continues to deny any involvement.

"There is a risk that reckless actions by the parties could escalate the situation to the point where events spiral out of control," Commerzbank said in a morning note. "In our opinion, this justifies a higher risk premium ... this is currently at around $3-$4, which, given the risks...is too little."

-- Jeff Mower, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Janet McGurty, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Sarah Raslan, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Margaret Rogers, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com