Updated from 2:42 p.m. EST
Crude futures jumped to a record close of more than $57 a barrel Friday, as surging gasoline prices and yesterday's bullish call from Goldman Sachs continued to influence the commodity markets.
May crude rose $1.87 and closed at $57.27 a barrel on Nymex, above its record closing high of $56.72 set March 17. Gasoline prices, which soared 5.5 cents Thursday to eclipse last week's record close on the Nymex, tacked on another 6.5 cents to $1.73 a gallon.
Oil's all-time intraday record is $57.60.
Gasoline prices added about 14 cents since Wednesday, when the Energy Department reported a 2.9 million-barrel decline in gasoline inventories for the prior week. While oil inventories rose, crude prices have followed gasoline higher on concerns that end-user demand heading into the summer driving season will create supply shortages.
Goldman Sachs argued Thursday that oil markets are entering a bull phase that could, in certain scenarios, take crude above $100 a barrel. The bank said those prices would eventually crimp global demand, but until then it predicted major upside for big oil producers.
"The million-dollar question is when will prices start slowing demand," said Jacques Rousseau, senior energy analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. Global demand is still soaring, oil products reserves keep falling, and yet consumers are still stepping on it. Until oil refining starts picking up, oil prices will continue to be pressured, and prices might very well reach $60, Rousseau says.
Rousseau estimates that once refineries complete their seasonal maintenance, usually by mid-April, gasoline supply will grow and eventually ease the prices.
Another concern impacting gasoline is the Venezuela's Amuay refinery that shut down Thursday because of an electricity failure. Venezuela exports gasoline as well as crude oil to the U.S. "At this point, any refining problem would cause fear that would spike up prices," said Rousseau. Ninety-five percent of U.S. gasoline comes from local refineries and the remaining 5% from global imports.
Still, over the past decade, the number of refineries in the U.S. has dwindled and high maintenance costs made the business less attractive.
That situation has changed of late. The "crack spread," which is the difference between what a refined barrel sells for and the cost of a crude barrel, or the refiner's net profit, has doubled since 2000, from $7.16 a barrel to $14.
"It's alchemy, refiners are turning straw into gold," said John Kilduff, senior vice president of energy risk management at Fimat USA. Refiners have recently performed "incredibly well," said Kilduff.
, an independent refining company that owns 15 refineries with a production capacity of 2.5 million barrels a day, posted record earnings for 2004, sending its stock up 61% in the first quarter of 2005. Shares jumped $3.98, or 5.43%, to $77.25.
Other refining companies reported strong earnings for 2004 and are off to a good start in 2005, said Tim Evans, market analyst at IFR Markets.
rose $3.32, or 8.97%, to $40.34 Friday, while
jumped $4.39, or 7.36%, to $64.07.
Still, high profitability in refining is regarded as a short-term phenomenon, Kilduff says. "I don't see any investments being made in new refineries, mainly because people don't believe high gasoline prices are sustainable," he says.
The recent rally in oil prices spurred many analysts to urge investors to buy oil stocks.
was raised to buy from hold by analyst Jay Saunders at Deutsche Bank Friday. Amid rising oil prices, Occidental is an "attractive" buy, Saunders said. Shares rose $2.20, or 3.09%, to $73.37.
Eleswhere, Bank of America analyst James Wicklund doled out a couple of upgrades this morning.
was raised to a buy from hold. Its price target was also raised to $39 from $35. "FTI is the leading company in deepwater subsea production equipment and technology," Wicklund said. Shares rose 64 cents, or 1.93%, to $33.82, rising more than 3% earlier.
was raised to buy from hold. It is a "strong products company" with "strong returns," Wicklund wrote in his note. He raised his target price to $52 from $49. Shares rose $1.05, or 2.36%, to $45.54.
Other major oil producers were mostly up Friday.
gained 89 cents, or 1.49%, to $60.49;
increased 90 cents, or 1.54%, to $59.21;
rose 7 cents, or 0.12%, to $60.11;
gained 37 cents, or 0.59% to $62.77; and
increased $2.05, or 1.90%, to $109.89.