U.S. producer prices post biggest rise in five months

FILE PHOTO: A customer shops for a turkey at a Walmart store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski/File Photo

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. producer prices increased by the most in five months in March, but underlying wholesale inflation was tame.

The Labor Department said on Thursday its producer price index for final demand rose 0.6 percent last month, lifted by a surge in the cost of gasoline. That was the largest increase since last October and followed a 0.1 percent gain in February.

In the 12 months through March, the PPI rose 2.2 percent after advancing 1.9 percent in February. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI would climb 0.3 percent in March and increase 1.9 percent on a year-on-year basis.

A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services was unchanged last month after ticking up 0.1 percent in February. The so-called core PPI increased 2.0 percent in the 12 months through March. That was the smallest annual increase since August 2017 and followed a 2.3 percent rise in February..

Data on Wednesday showed consumer prices rose by the most in 14 months in March, driven by more expensive gasoline. But core inflation remained muted amid a plunge in the cost of apparel.

Slowing domestic and global growth are keeping inflation contained. Wage inflation has also been moderate despite a tight labor market.

Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s March 19-20 policy meeting published on Wednesday described inflation as “muted,” though officials expected it to rise to or near the U.S. central bank’s 2 percent target. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, is currently at 1.8 percent.

Last month, wholesale energy prices jumped 5.6 percent, with gasoline prices shooting up 16.0 percent, the most since August 2009. Energy prices rose 1.8 percent in February.

Gasoline accounted for over 60 percent of the 1.0 percent rise in goods prices last month. Goods prices increased 0.4 percent in February.

Wholesale food prices rose 0.3 percent in March, reversing a 0.3 percent drop in the prior month. Core goods prices rose 0.2 percent after edging up 0.1 percent in February.

The cost of services increased 0.3 percent in March after being unchanged in the prior month. Prices for healthcare services fell 0.2 percent last month. There was a sharp drop in the cost of hospital outpatient services. Those healthcare costs feed into the core PCE price index.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao) ((Lucia.Mutikani@thomsonreuters.com; 1 202 898 8315; Reuters Messaging: lucia.mutikani.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)

Zimbabwe to charge activist pastor with subverting the government

Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire is escorted by detectives as he arrives at the Harare Magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court on Thursday to be charged with subverting the government, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, after protests this week in which three people were killed and dozens injured.

Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday and initially charged by police with the lesser crime of inciting public violence after he posted on social media encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call by the biggest labor union.

On entering the courthouse, he told reporters: “None of what I am accused of is what I have done at all. If we have true justice in this country, let’s see it at play. I am very upset.”

The Harare pastor rose to prominence as a critic of former strongman Robert Mugabe and led a national protest shutdown in 2016. He was tried on similar charges in 2017 but was acquitted by the High Court for lack of evidence.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government decreed a 150 percent hike in fuel prices last weekend, which triggered the three-day strike, during which protesters barricaded roads with rocks and burnt tires in the capital Harare. In the second city of Bulawayo, shops were looted.

Police rounded up 600 people, including Mawarire and an opposition legislator, in a crackdown on protesters. A doctors’ group said they had treated 68 people for gunshot wounds.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyers are representing Mawarire and more than 130 others, said police had decided to upgrade the charges against Mawarire.

FAMILIAR WAYS

Mnangagwa promised to repair the struggling economy after replacing long-time leader Mugabe in an election following a coup in November 2017, Zimbabwe has fallen back into familiar ways.

While some businesses reopened on Thursday after the strike, new data showed that inflation had soared to a 10-year high of 42 percent in December, even before the fuel price increase.

As dollar shortages batter the economy, rocketing inflation is destroying the value of citizens’ savings.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said its members had treated 172 people, some with dog bites, in private and public hospitals since Monday, when the protests started.

“There are cases of patients who had chest trauma and fractured limbs who were forcibly taken from the hospital to attend court despite the advice of doctors,” ZAHDR said in a statement.

Of the 68 people treated for gunshot wounds, 17 underwent emergency surgery.

On Thursday, there were still long queues at the few filling stations selling fuel, sometimes under the watchful eye of soldiers.

The few shops that were open were packed with people buying basics such as sugar, flour and bread.

Media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remained blocked because of a government order, leading to accusations from opposition figures that it wanted to prevent images of heavy-handed police tactics being broadcast around the world.

(Editing by James Macharia and Kevin Liffey)

Exclusive: North Korean fuel prices drop, suggesting U.N. sanctions being undermined

FILE PHOTO: North Koreans take a truck through a path amongst the fields, along the Yalu River, in Sakchu county, North Phyongan Province, North Korea, June 20, 2015. REUTERS/Jacky Chen/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – Gasoline prices in North Korea have nearly halved since late March, market data analyzed by Reuters shows, adding weight to suspicions that fuel is finding its way into the isolated economy from China and elsewhere despite U.N. sanctions.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in December to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.

But as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has moved to improve relations with the United States, China and South Korea, concerns have grown that the policy of “maximum pressure” through sanctions and isolation, is losing steam.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to work toward denuclearization at their summit in Singapore on June 12. Experts say any fuel aid in breach of sanctions could erode the diplomatic progress.

China said on Tuesday it strictly abided by U.N. sanctions, but indicated it may have resumed some fuel shipments to North Korea in the second quarter of this year.

Gasoline was sold by private dealers in the North Korean capital Pyongyang at about $1.24 per kg as of Tuesday, down 33 percent from $1.86 per kg on June 5 and 44 percent from this year’s peak of $2.22 per kg on March 27, according to Reuters analysis of data compiled by the Daily NK website. Diesel prices are at $0.85 per kg, down about 17 percent from March.

The website is run by North Korean defectors who collect prices via phone calls with multiple traders in the North after cross-checks to corroborate their information, offering a rare glimpse into the livelihoods of ordinary North Koreans.

In North Korea, gas is sold via informal channels such as street stalls and informal markets and by weight rather than by volume, as it is in South Korea, the United States and elsewhere, so North Koreans prefer to quote “per kg” rates, said Kang Mi-jin, who works at Daily NK. A 200 liter barrel of petrol holds around 180 kg.

U.S. prices stand at around 75 cents per liter or $2.839 per gallon.

“My assessment is that there was a greater inflow (of fuel supplies) from abroad, especially China since Kim’s trips there,” said Kang, who speaks regularly to sources inside North Korea.

Kim first visited China to meet President Xi Jinping in March, and they held two more summits, in May and June.

SANCTIONS

The latest fuel data comes amid mounting suspicion in Washington that North Korea may be using the recent diplomatic thaw to get a lifeline from China.

North Korea gets most of its fuel from China, its biggest trading partner, and some from Russia. Washington and Seoul officials have said the North imports some 4.5 million barrels of refined petroleum products and 2 million barrels of crude oil each year.

Last year’s U.N. resolution capped refined imports at 500,000 barrels a year.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Tuesday that China has consistently and strictly abided by U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

China had exported 7,432 tonnes of refined oil products to North Korea in the first six months of this year, out of a total of 60,000 tonnes a year stipulated by the U.N. sanctions.

China had reported its exports to the Security Council’s sanctions committee in a timely manner, Geng added.

“The relevant situation is totally open and transparent,” he said, without elaborating.

Since official Chinese customs data showed no gasoline and diesel exports to North Korea from January to March, Geng’s comments suggested China resumed some shipments some time after Kim and Xi’s first meeting.

Overall, China’s trade with North Korea in the first half of this year tumbled 56 percent on the back of the tightening sanctions, customs data showed on Monday.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused North Korea of “illegally smuggling petroleum products into the country at a level that far exceeds quotas” established by the UN.

“Illegal ship-to-ship transfers are the most prominent means by which this is happening. Every UN member state must step up enforcement,” he wrote on Twitter, without naming any country.

China and Russia delayed a U.S. push last week for a UN Security Council panel to order a halt to refined petroleum exports to North Korea, asking for more detail on a U.S. accusation that Pyongyang breached sanctions, diplomats said.

The United States provided a list to the committee earlier this month of 89 illicit North Korean transactions and a few select photos, seen by Reuters.

Seoul’s foreign ministry said last week that the authorities were investigating two ships with Panama and Sierra Leone flags suspected to have illegally transferred North Korean coal into South Korea via Russia.

NO MAJOR SUFFERING

North Korean rice prices have also been stable since a spike last September, when the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions. Rice has hovered around $0.62 per kg throughout this year.

Stable fuel and rice prices suggest no immediate signs of major suffering in North Korea despite South Korea’s recent estimates the impoverished state’s economy contracted at its sharpest rate in two decades last year.

South Korea’s central bank said North Korea’s gross domestic product shrank 3.5 percent last year, marking the biggest decline since 1997, citing international sanctions and drought.

While other defectors reported some suffering in remote rural regions, Daily NK’s Kang said fuel demand has been steady in North Korea, and overall living conditions have improved in line with a booming unofficial market economy.

The unofficial markets, known as jangmadang, have grown to account for about 60 percent of the economy, according to the Institute for Korean Integration of Society.

“I’ve seen signs the economy was slowly improving over the past five years, and in last year things are still developing but perhaps not as fast as before,” a Western consultant who makes regular trips to North Korea told Reuters.

Kim, who vowed not to let the people “tighten their belt again” in his first-ever public speech in 2012, announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programs to the economy. Analysts say that will be difficult while sanctions remain in place.

“I don’t think there is an outcry in the markets now, but there could be one toward the end of this year,” said Kim Byeong-yeon, a North Korea economy specialist at the Seoul National University.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Additional reporting by Josh Smith and Cynthia Kim in SEOUL and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Farmers worldwide struggle with rising fuel costs

By Stephanie Kelly and Tom Polansek

NEW YORK/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farmers worldwide are feeling the pinch as fuel costs rise to near four-year highs just as they plant and harvest their fields, eroding agricultural income already hamstrung by depressed crop prices.

The agricultural sector from the United States to Russia, and Brazil to Europe, is seeing profits harmed by the rise in diesel prices. The global oil benchmark, Brent crude, touched $80 a barrel for the first time since late 2014 on Thursday.

Coupled with local economic issues, the increase is making it even harder for many farmers worldwide to turn a profit in the estimated $2.4 trillion agriculture industry, casting a cloud over future investments.

In the United States, fuel accounts for about five percent of farmers’ overall costs, and is hurting margins at a time when farm income is already half that of 2013. Massive harvests have depressed prices of staples such as corn, wheat and soybeans.

Diesel fuel is essential for planting, harvesting, and shipping crops to market. In the United States, farmers will spend an estimated $15.25 billion on fuel and oil in 2018, an 8 percent increase from 2017, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed.

The price of ultra-low sulfur diesel used for farming equipment and transporting crops has not been this high in May since 2014. Heating oil futures, the proxy for ultra-low sulfur diesel, traded at $2.29 a gallon on Thursday.

Ron Heck, who grows soybeans in Perry, Iowa, said his fuel costs could go up $1,000 to $2,000 during the northern hemisphere’s spring.

“You feel the pain right away,” Heck said.

In Russia, fuel prices for farmers are up 50 percent compared with a year ago, Arkady Zlochevsky, the head of Russia’s Grain Union, a non-governmental farm lobby, told Reuters. Farmers will need to spend more ahead of harvesting, which starts in about a month in Russia, he said.

For a graphic on farmers’ cash expenses, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2rXHHQf

FINANCIAL STRESS

U.S. farms are also factoring in potential losses of income due to a 25 percent tax China announced on major American imports following the U.S. government’s decision to slap duties on steel and aluminum.

“We’re seeing financial stress occurring in agriculture that we probably haven’t seen for a decade or so,” said Scott Brown, director of strategic partnerships at the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “If diesel prices continue to go higher, it continues to put more pressure on [farmers].”

Net farm income is forecast to fall to $59.5 billion in 2018, an 8.3 percent decline from 2017, according to the USDA. It has fallen by 55 percent since 2013.

In Holly Grove, Arkansas, Tim Gannon paid about $17,000 in February to fill a 7,500-gallon tank with diesel used to run equipment and irrigation. The price increase means it may cost up to 25 percent more, or an extra $4,000, to refill it in coming weeks, he said.

“That’s a fairly significant amount of income to lose,” he said. Gannon has been taking steps to cut his diesel costs over the past year by reducing the number of times he plows, or tills.

In Brazil, farmers are also taking steps to deal with higher costs, as diesel prices have climbed 43 percent in the country since July 2017. Eder Ferreira Bueno, a farmer in grain state Mato Grosso, said increased fuel costs meant he had “no other option but to spend less to treat the soil.” Other farmers might hire fewer workers or delay investment plans, he added.

In neighboring Argentina, the top shipper of soybean meal and oil worldwide, farmers are having to deal with a weakening currency at the same time fuel costs are rising.

“Where the impact is felt greatest is in trucking costs. We are already at a disadvantage when compared to our competitors on freight costs within Argentina,” said David Hughes, a farmer in Buenos Aires province and president of Argentine wheat industry chamber Argentrigo.

In Europe, French grain producers say rising oil costs may have a knock-on effect on fertilizers and crop protection products.

“It comes at a time when things are already difficult for farmers economically,” said Philippe Pinta, head of grain growers group AGPB in Paris.

Wamego, Kansas, farmer Glenn Brunkow said he may lock in diesel prices in advance for the first time ever next year, to avoid the pain of future increases.

“You just kind of all of a sudden realize, ‘Wow, it’s pretty high,'” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York and Tom Polansek in Chicago; additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Valerie Parent in Paris, Polina Devitt in Moscow, Ana Mano and Marcelo Teixeira in Sao Paulo, and Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump’s revenge: U.S. oil floods Europe, hurting OPEC and Russia

FILE PHOTO: A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Company near Guthrie, Oklahoma September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

By Olga Yagova and Libby George

MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) – As OPEC’s efforts to balance the oil market bear fruit, U.S. producers are reaping the benefits – and flooding Europe with a record amount of crude.

Russia paired with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last year in cutting oil output jointly by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd), a deal they say has largely rebalanced the market and one that has helped elevate benchmark Brent prices <LCOc1> close to four-year highs.

Now, the relatively high prices brought about by that pact, coupled with surging U.S. output, are making it harder to sell Russian, Nigerian and other oil grades in Europe, traders said.

“U.S. oil is on offer everywhere,” said a trader with a Mediterranean refiner, who regularly buys Russian and Caspian Sea crude and has recently started purchasing U.S. oil. “It puts local grades under a lot of pressure.”

U.S. oil output is expected to hit 10.7 million bpd this year, rivaling that of top producers Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In April, U.S. supplies to Europe are set to reach an all-time high of roughly 550,000 bpd (around 2.2 million tonnes), according to the Thomson Reuters Eikon trade flows monitor.

In January-April, U.S. supplies jumped four-fold year-on-year to 6.8 million tonnes, or 68 large Aframax tankers, according to the same data.

Trade sources said U.S. flows to Europe would keep rising, with U.S. barrels increasingly finding homes in foreign refineries, often at the expense of oil from OPEC or Russia.

In 2017, Europe took roughly 7 percent of U.S. crude exports, Reuters data showed, but the proportion has already risen to roughly 12 percent this year.

Top destinations include Britain, Italy and the Netherlands, with traders pointing to large imports by BP, Exxon Mobil and Valero.

Polish refiners PKN Orlen and Grupa Lotos and Norway’s Statoil are sampling U.S. grades, while other new buyers are likely, David Wech of Vienna-based JBC Energy consultancy said.

“There are a number of customers who still may test U.S. crude oil,” Wech said.

The gains for U.S. suppliers could come as a welcome development for U.S. President Donald Trump, who accused OPEC on Friday of “artificially” boosting oil prices.

“Looks like OPEC is at it again. With record amounts of Oil all over the place, including the fully loaded ships at sea. Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

‘KEY SUPPLY SOURCE’

While the United States lifted its oil export ban in late 2015, the move took time to gain traction among Europe’s traditional refineries, which were slow to diversify away from crude from the North Sea, West Africa and the Caspian.

“European refiners started experimenting with U.S. crude last year,” said Ehsan Ul-Haq, director of London-based consultancy Resource Economics. “Now, they know more than enough to process this crude.”

U.S. oil gained in popularity, sources said, in part because of the wide gap between West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, and dated Brent, which is more expensive and sets the price for most of the world’s crude grades.

This gap, known as the Brent/WTI spread, has averaged $4.46 per barrel this year, nearly twice as high as the year-earlier figure, Reuters data showed.

Wech of JBC Energy said the spread would likely persist in the near future.

The most popular U.S. grades in Europe are WTI, Light Louisiana Sweet, Eagle Ford, Bakken and Mars.

Prices for alternative local grades have been slashed as a result.

CPC Blend differentials recently hit a six-year low versus dated Brent at minus $2 a barrel. Russia’s Urals also came under pressure despite the end of seasonal refinery maintenance. BFO-CPC BFO-URL-BFO-URL-NWE

WTI was available at 80-90 cent premiums delivered to Italy’s Augusta, well below offers of Azeri BTC at a premium of $1.60 a barrel, according to trading sources.

U.S. oil is even edging out North Sea Forties, which is produced in the backyard of the continent’s refineries.

Cargoes of WTI were offered in Rotterdam at premiums of around 50-60 cents a barrel above dated Brent, cheaper than Forties’ premium of 75 cents to dated.

(Additional reporting by Julia Payne and Devika Krishna Kumar; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Retail U.S. gasoline prices surge as refineries warn of shortages after Harvey

A note is left on a gas pump in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Cedar Park, Texas, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed

By Julia Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retail U.S. gasoline prices rose 2.8 percent from Friday to Saturday as refineries warned customers about fuel-supply shortages caused by Hurricane Harvey.

They were at $2.59 a gallon, according to motorists advocacy group AAA. It represents a 16.7 percent rise in the average price from a year ago.

Prices have risen more than 17.5 cents since Aug. 23, before the storm began.

Average prices in Texas, the epicenter of the storm, rose more than 3 percent from Friday to Saturday, and are up 12 percent from a week ago.

Refiner Motiva has warned customers along the route of the largest U.S. fuel pipeline to prepare for shortages after Harvey shut refineries and cut supply to the line, said a source at a fuel distributor supplied by Motiva.

Harvey shut refineries that can process up to 4.4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude. The plants shut down include Motiva’s 603,000 bpd facility in Port Arthur, Texas, the largest refinery in the country.

Nearly half of the U.S. refining capacity is in the Gulf Coast, a region with proximity to plentiful crude supplies including Texan oil fields and also Mexican and Venezuelan oil imports.

“The refineries were built on the Gulf Coast with the idea that we’re going to import,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar in Austin, Texas, “That’s why we’re having problems today because that’s where they were all built.”

The reduction in fuel supplies has forced the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies fuel from refineries near the Gulf of Mexico to the U.S. Northeast, to reduce supplies.

Convenience store and gas station chain Circle K, a big buyer from Motiva, said the company was working with a limited supply.

Some crude oil pipelines have restarted operations. Magellan Midstream Partners <MMP.N> announced late Friday that it resumed operations on its BridgeTex and Longhorn crude oil pipelines. The two pipelines transport around 675,000 barrels per day (bpd) of West Texas crude oil into East Houston.

The company says it expects to resume service on its Houston crude oil distribution system over the weekend.

U.S. crude production continues to stall following the storm. As of Friday, volume of crude production still shut-in had declined to about 153,000 bpd, down from 324,000 bpd just two days ago.

(Reporting by Julia Simon Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Retail U.S. gasoline prices surge as Harvey keeps refiners shut

A gas station submerged under flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey is seen in Rose City, Texas, U.S., on August 31, 2017.

By Erwin Seba and Devika Krishna Kumar

HOUSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retail U.S. gasoline prices hit two-year highs and global shipping routes were scrambled as the nation’s largest refiners remained shut on Friday, even as Storm Harvey lost strength.

Major fuel pipelines feeding the U.S. Northeast and Midwest were either closed or severely curtailed, prompting shortages in some areas and dramatic spikes in wholesale prices.

The storm, which began as a hurricane a week ago, has roiled global fuel markets, and tankers carrying millions of barrels of fuel have been rerouted to the Americas to avert shortages. European refining margins hit a two-year high amid the surge in exports.

Indeed, the effects of the storm will continue for several weeks, if not months, after Harvey hammered the Gulf Coast for days and brought floods that buried Houston and the surrounding area in several feet of water. It knocked out about 4.4 million barrels of daily refining capacity, slightly more than Japan uses daily, and the signs of restarts were tentative.

The nation’s largest refiner, Motiva’s Port Arthur facility, which can handle 600,000 barrels of crude daily, will be shut for at least two weeks, according to sources familiar with plant operations.

Other plants in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area are expected to face similar challenges restarting as waters continued to rise, even as flooding receded in Houston, some 85 miles (137 km) west.

In Corpus Christi, where Harvey first made landfall, refiners Citgo Petroleum Corp, Flint Hills Resources and Valero Energy Corp were moving to restart their plants, along with the nearby Valero Three Rivers refinery, according to sources.

Benchmark U.S. gasoline prices  have surged more than 15 percent since the storm began, but in trading Friday, the contract for October delivery lost 1 percent, the first decline in five days. September’s contract had risen by 25 percent, but stopped trading Thursday.

U.S. crude prices continued to slump along with demand, with the futures contract falling 0.4 percent to $47.02 a barrel.

The national average for a regular gallon of gasoline rose to $2.519 as of Friday morning, according to motorists advocacy group AAA, with even gaudier increases in the U.S. Southeast, which relies heavily on Gulf supplies. South Carolina, for instance, has seen prices rise nearly 30 cents, and prices were up nearly 20 cents in Texas, where fuel shortages were already evident.

 

SHORTAGE WORRIES

Suppliers in the Chicago area were taking steps to prevent shortages, and banking on hope.

Dave Luchtman, owner and president of Lucky’s Energy Service Inc., a small distributor in Chicago, has rented two storage trailers that hold 8,000 gallons each, expected to be delivered Friday.

“So I have a little lifeline,” Luchtman said.

Refineries so far have not given any indication that there are fuel shortages, said Mario Orlandi, an operations manager at Olson Service Co, which supplies diesel and gasoline to the Chicago area.

“Cross our fingers, keep our tanks full,” Orlandi said.

The global impact of the storm was being felt in Venezuela, where financially strapped state-run PDVSA is facing the possibility that scheduled deliveries – tankers floating offshore for weeks due to non-payment – will make their way to other Latin American destinations.

At least two cargoes scheduled to deliver to Venezuela currently in the port of Curacao are now expected to be delivered to Ecuador.

Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and other countries want to tap some of the 7 million barrels of fuel sitting in the Caribbean sea, according to three traders and shippers.

European and Asian traders have diverted millions of barrels of fuel to the Americas. That included a rare opportunity for exports of jet fuel from Europe to the United States, reversing the usual flow of shipments.

Supplies from distant markets may not arrive soon enough to avert a crunch after the Colonial Pipeline, the biggest U.S. fuel system, said it would shut part of its main lines to the Northeast.

“We are going to have outages from Texas to Boston,” said one East Coast market source. The market is “way under-appreciating the magnitude of this.”

Several East Coast refineries have run out of gasoline for immediate delivery as they sent fuel elsewhere, and concerns over shortages ahead of the U.S. Labor Day extended weekend were mounting.

 

(Reporting by Erwin Seba and Devika Krishna Kumar; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, Susannah Gonzales, Marianna Parraga, Karolin Schaps, Ron Bousso, Libby George and Seng Li Peng; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Susan Fenton and Bernadette Baum)

 

U.S. gasoline prices rise, refineries shut as Texas braces for hurricane

Tropical Storm Harvey is seen approaching the Texas Gulf Coast,. NOAA/via Reuters

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – U.S. gasoline prices surged to a three-week high on Thursday as Hurricane Harvey moved across the Gulf of Mexico and threatened to slam oil refineries in Texas when it comes ashore this weekend.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded Harvey to a hurricane from a tropical storm on Thursday afternoon, and said it would strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane before hitting the Texas coast late on Friday or early on Saturday.

The storm is now expected hit the central Texas coast with a combination of winds of 115 miles (185 km) per hour and heavy rains, said John Tharp, a forecaster with Weather Decision Technologies in Norman, Oklahoma.

“With this system’s intensity and slow motion, it is the worst of both worlds,” he said referring to the expected winds and rains. “There will be major impacts along the coast and inland with periods of prolonged rain.”

Harvey will cause a storm surge that will flood parts of the Texas coast as it makes landfall and linger for days over the state, dumping up to 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain on some areas, the NHC said in an advisory on Thursday.

The mayor of Texas coastal city Corpus Christi warned on Wednesday that flooding was his biggest concern.

“I hope people will listen to forecasters when they say ‘beware of flash floods,'” Joe McComb said. “Flash floods can come quickly, and they can be deadly.”

The city, a major oil refining center, has not issued any evacuation orders, he told reporters at a news conference, but its emergency operations center has been activated.

Harvey has already disrupted U.S. oil supplies.

Energy companies including Royal Dutch Shell &lt;RDSa.L&gt;, Anadarko Petroleum &lt;APC.N&gt; and Exxon Mobil &lt;XOM.N&gt; have evacuated staff from offshore oil and gas platforms in the storm’s path.

Two oil refineries Corpus Christi were shutting down ahead of the storm, and concern that Harvey could cause shortages in fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline prices &lt;RBc1&gt; to a three-week high.

Prices for gasoline in spot physical markets on the Gulf Coast rose even more, hitting a one-year high.

Profit margins for refineries producing gasoline rose by over 12 percent on Thursday, putting margins on course for their biggest daily percentage gain in six months, according to Reuters data.

The two refineries that have shut have combined capacity to refine more than 450,000 barrels per day of crude.

The NHC expects the storm to come ashore along the central Texas coast, an area that includes Corpus Christi and Houston, home to some of the biggest refineries in the country.

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore in the region.

The storm could also bring flooding to inland shale oil fields in Texas that pump millions of barrels per day of crude.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Wednesday for 30 counties, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare for the storm.

Coastal cities and counties distributed sandbags to residents as some businesses boarded up windows, and residents flocked to grocery stores to stock up on supplies, local media reported.

Texas A&amp;M University-Corpus Christi issued a mandatory evacuation to all students who live on campus and canceled events.

 

(Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Devika Krishna Kumar in NEW YORK, Erwin Seba and Ernest Scheyder in HOUSTON, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Simon Webb; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

 

Higher gasoline, rental costs boost U.S. consumer inflation

customer shopping at walmart

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer prices rose in December as households paid more for gasoline and rental accommodation, leading to the largest year-on-year increase in 2-1/2 years and signaling that inflation pressures could be building.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday its Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent last month after gaining 0.2 percent in November. In the 12 months through December, the CPI increased 2.1 percent, the biggest year-on-year gain since June 2014. The CPI rose 1.7 percent in the year to November.

The increases were in line with economists’ expectations. The CPI rose 2.1 percent in 2016, up from a gain of 0.7 percent in 2015.

U.S. Treasury prices fell and the dollar strengthened against the euro and yen after the data. U.S. stock index futures were trading higher.

Rising inflation comes against the backdrop of a strengthening economy and tightening labor market, which raises the specter of a faster pace of interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve than currently anticipated.

The U.S. central bank has forecast three rate hikes this year. It raised its benchmark overnight interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of 0.50 percent to 0.75 percent last month.

Price pressures are likely to remain on an upward trend amid expectations of fiscal stimulus from the incoming Trump administration. Republican businessman-turned-politician Donald Trump, who will be sworn in as U.S. president on Friday, has pledged to increase spending on infrastructure and cut taxes.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, rose 0.2 percent last month after the same increase in November. As a result, the core CPI increased 2.2 percent in the 12 months through December, from 2.1 percent in November.

The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks an inflation measure which is currently at 1.6 percent.

Last month, gasoline prices jumped 3.0 percent after climbing 2.7 percent in November. Food prices were unchanged for a sixth straight month. The cost of food consumed at home dropped for an eighth consecutive month.

Within the core CPI basket, housing continued its upward march in December. Rents increased 0.3 percent last month, with owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence also rising 0.3 percent. Rents increased 4.0 percent in 2016.

The cost of medical care rose 0.2 percent last month, with the prices for doctor visits unchanged. Prices for prescription medicine increased 0.2 percent. The cost of hospital services rose 0.3 percent.

There were price increases for a range of other goods and services last month including motor vehicle insurance, which increased 0.8 percent. The cost of airline fares rose 1.9 percent in December after falling 1.3 percent in November.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Mexico gas price hike spurs looting, blockades as unrest spreads

Demonstrators march after gas prices are raised in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans angry over a double-digit hike in gasoline prices looted stores and blockaded roads on Wednesday, prompting over 250 arrests amid escalating unrest over the rising cost of living in Latin America’s second biggest economy.

Twenty-three stores were sacked and 27 blockades put up in Mexico City, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said, days after the government raised gasoline costs by 14 to 20 percent, outraging Mexicans already battling rising inflation and a weak currency.

Mexican retailers’ association ANTAD urged federal and state authorities to intervene quickly, saying 79 stores had been sacked and 170 forcibly closed due to blockades.

Deputy interior Minister Rene Juarez said over 250 people had been arrested for vandalism and that federal authorities were working with security officials in Mexico City and the nearby states of Mexico and Hidalgo to address the unrest.

“These acts are outside the law and have nothing to do with peaceful protest nor freedom of expression,” Juarez said in a press conference late on Wednesday.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said earlier on Wednesday that the price spike that took effect on Jan. 1 was a “responsible” measure that the government took in line with international oil prices.

The hike is part of a gradual, year-long price liberalization the Pena Nieto administration has promised to implement this year.

State oil company Pemex said on Tuesday that blockades of fuel storage terminals by protesters had led to a “critical situation” in at least three Mexican states.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)