Crude futures rose to their highest level ever Wednesday as extremely bullish inventory figures from the Energy Information Administration combined with the expectation for a rate cut to send prices soaring. December light sweet crude climbed $4.15 to end at $94.53 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and earlier, it went all the way to $94.74. Reformulated gasoline rose 8 cents to $2.34 a gallon. Heating oil climbed 9 cents to $2.51 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 31 cents to $8.33 per million British thermal units. On Tuesday, oil fell by more than $3 a barrel, but the weakness wouldn't last, not with the price-boosting inventory report being released. The EIA said in its latest petroleum recap that crude stores fell by 3.9 million barrels during the week ended Oct. 26. Analysts were expecting a 400,000-barrel increase in crude stores. Distillate inventories rose by 808,000 barrels, whereas a 1 million-barrel draw was forecast. Motor gasoline stores grew by 1.3 million barrels, compared with the 200,000-barrel decline that analysts were anticipating. "Today's oil market was overwhelmed by the fact that crude inventories fell as far as they did," according to Jim Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics. The main cause to the disruption in inventories was the decline in oil production and exports from Mexican producer Pemex, according to Williams. The fact that most of the reduction in inventories occurred in the Gulf Coast region supports this argument.
"We may see a similar reduction in inventories next week because Mexico is still not back up to full speed after being hit by severe weather this week," he says. Compounding the problem was the finding that inventories at the Cushing, Okla., hub fell by 3 million barrels during the week to reach the lowest level since October 2005. "The point of delivery for Nymex crude is Cushing, so the large withdrawal from stores there sent the price of West Texas intermediate crude through the roof," says Williams. "That wouldn't have happened if the drop in stores had happened in Houston or Corpus Christi, Texas." Also affecting crude prices during the session was anticipation among traders that the Federal Reserve would lower interest rates following its two-day meeting, and they were proven correct. Lower interest rates tend to depress the value of the dollar, and when the U.S. currency falls, dollar-denominated assets, like crude, often rise. Meanwhile, energy stocks were also strong. ConocoPhillips ( COP) jumped 2.7% to $84.96, and Chevron ( CVX) advanced 1.6% to $91.51. Exxon Mobil ( XOM) rose 0.9% to $91.99. Solar power products maker SunPower ( SPWR) was upgraded by RBC Capital Markets to outperform from sector perform, sending its shares 6.2% higher to $126.46.