NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Crude-oil futures prices fell to a nine-week low Thursday, burdened by high U.S. oil inventories and weak demand.
Light, sweet crude oil for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled down 4.5%, or $3.62 a barrel, at $65.89 a barrel. That put prices at the lowest level since July 29, and the single-day drop was the biggest since that date. On the ICE, November Brent crude settled down $3.17 at $64.82 a barrel.
Thursday's Nymex crude price drop followed a nearly 4% decline Wednesday in response to a sharp rise in stockpiles and declining consumption. Crude prices have dropped $6.41 a barrel in the two days.
"Demand has not been there and we are seeing builds across the board" in crude-oil inventories of such petroleum products as gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel, said Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures in Newport Beach, Calif.
Refiners, pressured by the weakest margins this year, have trimmed operations. Because of low demand, though, this hasn't dented inventories, and it threatens to add to pressure on crude-oil prices, if crude stocks rise due to the lower demand.
Crude prices traded in a broad range of more than $3 a barrel on Thursday, and with the break below $66 a barrel, look likely to move outside the $65-$75 range that has framed trading for about two months.
Waggoner said he believes near-term crude will drop to $59 a barrel and notch into a range of $59-$65 a barrel. Crude last settled below $60 a barrel on July 14.
The weak U.S. economy - with unemployment in August at 9.7%, the highest level since June 1983 - is keeping demand down, especially for gasoline, the most widely used petroleum product. The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that gasoline demand in the week ended Sept. 18 was the lowest since January.
Ahead of winter, stocks of distillate fuel (diesel/heating oil) are at their highest level since January 1983.
Traders said the stronger dollar and weakness in equities, attributed to positioning ahead of the Group of 20 meeting of world leaders in Pittsburgh, also spurred selling in oil futures.
Oil's recent rise to $75 a barrel was fueled by investors tracking sentiment in the currency and equities markets and overlooking increasingly bearish supply/demand fundamentals in the U.S. oil market, traders said. Traders viewed gains in stock prices as validation of economic recovery, which would lift oil demand, while weakness in the dollar spurred buying in commodities, including crude as a safe-harbor investment.
October-delivery heating oil futures settled down 7.8 cents a gallon, or 4.4%, at $1.6814 a gallon, the lowest since July 29. Heating oil shed more than 13 cents a gallon in the past two days.
October-delivery RBOB gasoline futures fell 4%, or 6.83 cents to $1.6366 a gallon, the lowest price since July 8.
More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and ICE platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines:
Nymex Light Crude Oil Close
Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close
Nymex Heating Oil Close
ICE Brent Crude Oil Close
ICE Gas Oil Close
-By David Bird, Dow Jones Newswires, 1-212-416-2141; firstname.lastname@example.org