Crude Climbs After Weekly Data

Gasoline and natural gas also rise.
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Energy futures were up across the board late Wednesday after the government reported that gasoline stores remained stable and refinery utilization fell last week.

The July light sweet crude contract climbed 98 cents to $66.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Reformulated gasoline was up 4 cents at $2.17 a gallon, and heating oil advanced 6 cents to $1.97 a gallon.

July natural gas rose 4 cents at $7.70 per million British thermal units.

The Energy Information Administration's petroleum report for the week ended June 8 showed that gasoline inventories increased by only 8,000 barrels. Analysts were expecting a 1.5-million-barrel build.

Crude stores grew by 82,000 barrels, whereas analysts were expecting a 275,000-barrel draw. Distillate inventories rose by 287,000 barrels, short of the 1.7-million-barrel injection predicted by analysts.

The surprisingly low build in gasoline stores was due to a reduction in refinery utilization. Utilization for the week was 89.2%, down from 89.6% the previous week. This is well below the five-year average for this time of year. Furthermore, utilization numbers in early summer almost always increase from the previous week.

The inventory figures were "disappointing," according to Jim Williams, economist at WTRG Economics. "Total gasoline stores are 11.3 million barrels below normal. Utilization numbers have been 3.5% below normal, so we can't refill gasoline inventories ourselves. To make matters worse, gasoline imports were down by 350,000 barrels a day last week. This has left us with a significant shortfall."

Malfunctions with catalytic crackers have caused most of the refinery outages, Williams said. "Unfortunately, catalytic crackers are what you make gasoline with. These machines have been experiencing one problem after another."

Williams thinks that the problems have been caused by deferred refinery maintenance after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Meanwhile, energy stocks followed commodity prices higher. The

CBOE Oil Index

gained 1.4% to 743.69.

ConocoPhillips

(COP) - Get Report

edged 0.8% higher to $77.75.

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

rose 1.6% to $83.27.

Earlier in the day,

Chevron

(CVX) - Get Report

traded lower after

Bloomberg

reported that the company's drilling program at its Jack prospect in the Gulf of Mexico has been delayed by at least six months due to a shortage of rigs. However, Chevron's stock rebounded later in the session and traded 0.5% higher at $80.93.

Horizon Offshore

(HOFF)

was downgraded by Capital One Southcoast to hold from buy a day after it said it was being acquired by

Cal Dive

(DVR)

for $650 million. Horizon climbed 1.4% to $18.90.