US gasoline futures surge as Harvey swamps Texas, euro holds at 2 ½-high

Customers fuel vehicles at a Sunoco LP gas station ahead of Hurricane Harvey in Texas City, Texas, on Aug 25, 2017. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - US gasoline futures hit a two-year high on Monday(Aug 28) as Tropical Storm Harvey pummeled the heart of America's energy industry, while the euro hit a 2 ½-year peak after the European Central Bank president refrained from talking down the single currency.

Gasoline futures soared as much as 6.8 per cent at one point as the storm, which came ashore on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, continued to batter the state.

The region is home to a quarter of US crude oil refining capacity, and some areas are expected to see a year's worth of rainfall in the span of a week. At least two people have died so far, and the toll is expected to rise as the storm triggers additional tidal surges and tornadoes.

Harvey has knocked out a quarter of oil production from the Gulf of Mexico, prompting fears it could overturn years of US excess oil capacity and low prices. Some US traders were seeking to import oil product cargoes from North Asia, several refining and shipping sources told Reuters.

"The rain is expected to last through to Wednesday so the disruptions could last for some time yet," said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Rivkin Securities in Sydney.

US economic growth more than halved in the quarter after Hurricane Katrina mauled Louisiana in August 2005, but quickly bounced back by early 2006 as reconstruction began and gasoline prices moderated.

US gasoline futures were up 5.9 per cent at 0342 GMT.

After surging on Friday, crude oil prices were mixed on Monday as markets tried to gauge Harvey's impact on oil production.

Brent futures, the global crude oil benchmark, rose 0.4 per cent to US$52.62 a barrel, adding to Friday's 0.7 per cent increase. But US crude futures pulled back 0.3 per cent to US$47.67, paring Friday's 0.9 per cent gain.

Despite gains in energy shares across the region, Asia-Pacific stock indexes got off to a subdued start as investors waited to see how much damage the storm had inflicted.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose less than 0.1 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei slipped 0.1 per cent. Japanese property and casualty insurers' shares skidded as investors fretted about the broader impact of US storm.

Chinese blue chips rose 1.4 per cent, extending this summer's blistering rally to nearly 11 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.7 per cent.

Australian shares slid 0.7 per cent, and South Korea's KOSPI was down 0.4 per cent. Singapore stocks edged up 0.1 per cent.

Markets mostly dismissed the firing of three short-range missiles by North Korea into the sea off its east coast early on Saturday, as the US and South Korea conducted annual joint military drills that the North denounces as preparation for war.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday the test was a provocative act but that the US will continue to seek a peaceful resolution.

The Korean won strengthened 0.7 per cent to 1,120.3 won to the dollar as the greenback faltered.

The euro hovered at its highest level since January 2015, retaining gains made on Friday after ECB President Mario Draghi, speaking at the US Federal Reserve's annual conference in Wyoming, did not cite the common currency's strength as a concern or discuss monetary policy specifically.

Instead, Draghi said the central bank's ultra-easy monetary policy was working and the euro zone's economic recovery had taken hold.

"The EUR bulls will feed off anything they can get that suggests a less accommodative stance going forward," Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, wrote in a note.

The euro rose to as high as US$1.19665 early on Monday and was little changed at US$1.1923, holding Friday's 1 per cent gain.

The dollar fell 0.3 per cent to 109.15 yen, adding to Friday's 0.1 per cent slide, after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen focused more on financial stability in a speech at the same event as Draghi.

Yellen's remarks disappointed some investors who had hoped for hints on the Fed's plans for interest rates, though most analysts had not either Yellen or Draghi would stray much from their expected scripts.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of other major currencies, fell 0.3 per cent to 92.521, its lowest level since January 2015.

"Markets (were) disappointed with the Yellen speech and they sold the dollar and pushed bond yields down," said Imre Speizer, markets strategist at Westpac.

He said Harvey would likely further weigh on the US dollar since it's "a major negative weather event "and "obviously bad for the economy."

The 10-year US Treasury yield was at 2.1746 per cent on Monday, from Thursday's 2.194, further undermining the dollar's yield appeal.

But lower bond yields gave Wall Street a slight boost, with the Dow and the S&P 500 both ending about 0.15 per cent higher on Friday, although the Nasdaq closed about 0.1 per cent lower.

Spot gold crept up 0.2 per cent to US$1,293.45 an ounce, extending Friday's 0.4 per cent gain.

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