U.S. oil prices rose by more than $5 a barrel as traders scramble to cover short positions on the WTI/Brent spread. Brent crude hit $108 per barrel on Monday for the first time since 2008, pushing the spread to a record $16 a barrel before it settled at $12 in after-hours trading.
At the heart of all this excitement is the turmoil in Libya.
Unrest in that country's capital, Tripoli, has already forced at least one producer to shut down 100,000-barrel-per-day production. Others are readying workers for a quick exodus should the situation deteriorate much further, Reuters is reporting.
"The market is on edge about the potential for Middle East and North Africa supply disruptions," said Mike Wittner, head of commodities research, Americas, at Societe Generale. "If you've got reports that actual disruptions are starting to occur, it's going to have a supportive impact. A lot of it is high-quality crude and that is important as well."
In Libya, scores were killed in anti-government protests as one of the region's bloodiest revolts hit Tripoli for the first time, while army units defected to the opposition and Gaddafi's son vowed to fight to the last man standing.
The peace and calm for marketers who observed Presidents' Day on Monday has been interrupted by a paroxysm in global prices for crude and refined products, which almost certainly will add 5 cents/gal or more to wholesale prices on Tuesday.
April Brent crude was trading at $104.73/bbl, up $2.21/bbl at presstime. Even higher numbers were seen in electronic WTI action, where the expiring March contract moved up $4/bbl to $90.19/bbl and the April contract (which will soon represent the prompt month) rallied some $4.38/bbl to $94.08/bbl. This latter rally has the interest of technical analysts, who believe it may signal a much larger pop.
Most U.S. oil companies were closed Monday, so OPIS has not yet seen a host of intraday moves. Terminals are quite busy, however, as jobbers race to get ahead of price increases that might add $400-$500 per load when spot markets reopen for business Tuesday.