As refineries cut back, gas prices rise

WALT AND ALEX BREITINGER

FUTURES FILE


Gasoline prices jumped this week after data showed that U.S. gasoline stockpiles fell for the first time in nearly four months, a sign that demand has finally caught up with supply.

Gasoline consumption is estimated to be up more than 5 percent from last year, as drivers take advantage of cheap fuel.

Meanwhile, some U.S. refineries are cutting back on production, which could help cut into the record glut of gasoline supplies.

As of Friday morning, gasoline for delivery in March stood at $1.03 per gallon, a price that excludes taxes and other expenses. Meanwhile, April gasoline was trading for $1.31, a sign that prices could be rising soon.

Corn acres flood market

U.S. corn farmers are likely to plant an additional 2 million acres of corn this spring, according to the newest outlook from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that pegged plantings at 90 million acres in total. This projection was higher than expected and crushed corn prices to a six-week low.

Farmers are likely to add corn and reduce soybean acres in an effort to scrape by this year, hoping that they can break even more easily on corn.

Increasing acres, alongside diminishing demand from ethanol producers and livestock feeders, put pressure on corn, which traded as low as $3.54 per bushel on Friday.

Meanwhile, wheat prices were hit even harder, with Chicago wheat dropping to a five-year low at $4.38 per bushel, a price so cheap that it may begin prompting farmers to feed wheat to cattle instead of selling it solely for human consumption.

Steak market sizzles

Cattle charged to a four-month high Friday, pushing over $1.38 per pound. Prices have been rising as demand from meatpackers picks up as they prepare for spring cookouts. Retailers are hoping that relatively cheap prices for steaks and burgers will lead to increased consumer demand in the coming months.

Additionally, the cattle being sold to slaughterhouses are relatively skinny, as the cold winter has kept them from gaining weight, which is limiting beef supply and pushing prices higher.

Starting Monday, livestock trading hours at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange will be changing, with cattle and hogs now trading from 8:30 a.m. to 1:05 p.m. CST, a cutback in hours that should focus trading on the high-activity hours only.

Walt and Alex Breitinger are commodity futures brokers in Silver Lake, Kansas. They can be reached at 800-411-3888 or www.paragoninvestments.com.

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