HOUSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Gulf Coast crude prices climbed sharply this week after fog-related port closures slowed the nation’s crude imports and as supplies rose at the U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, traders and analysts said on Wednesday.
Buyers bid up U.S. coastal grades like Light Louisiana Sweet and Mars Sour after imports fell to the lowest in more than two decades last week, the result of several days-long Gulf Coast port closures, refinery maintenance and slumping Canadian crude-by-rail shipments, traders said.
Coastal grades were also driven higher by expectations of rising supplies at Cushing, which has widened the spread between U.S. crude and global benchmark Brent as unexpected refinery issues add to already high inventories.
Light Louisiana Sweet (LLS), a coastal crude grade delivered into St. James, Louisiana, firmed to an $8.75 per barrel premium to U.S. crude futures on Monday, the strongest since early November. The price edged lower to $8.35 over WTI on Wednesday, but still traded well above previous weeks.
“That wider LLS discount is (also) driven by cheaper barrels in Oklahoma,” said Matthew Blair, an analyst at investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.
Mars Sour traded at a $7.60 premium on Monday, the strongest in five years. It also was slightly lower on Wednesday.
Net U.S. crude imports dropped to 3.8 million barrels per day last week, the lowest amount on record, down by 430,000 bpd compared to the prior week, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data released on Wednesday.
Houston Pilots and the Galveston-Texas City Pilots, which guide tankers to Houston-area ports, suspended boardings for several days because of dense fog clouding Gulf ports, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
A decline in Canadian crude by rail cargoes to the United States also helped prop up Gulf Coast grades, traders said. The nation’s overall imports from Canada fell 511,000 bpd to 3.19 million bpd last week, the EIA data showed.
The government of Alberta, Canada’s mandated production cuts in December lifted depressed Canadian heavy crude prices.
Alberta’s cuts “have closed the rail play,” one trader said. “Some big players who were moving sizeable volumes are down to next to none. Costs are just too high versus demand.”
LLS for delivery in the second quarter traded at $6.20 over the U.S. benchmark. The grade could weaken further as Energy Transfer LP’s Bayou Bridge pipeline delivering light sweet crude from Texas to St. James is expected to come into service in coming weeks, traders said.
Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston, Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar in New York; Editing by Tom Brown