Trucking Demand Throws a Lifeline to Ailing Refineries

A Gallup, New Mexico, refinery.
A Gallup, New Mexico, refinery. (Cate Dingley/Bloomberg News)

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With jets grounded and cars parked, diesel fuel for trucking is giving some relief to refiners as the coronavirus spread cuts deep into demand.

The diesel revenue is sorely needed for the refining industry that has seen plants shut from South Africa to Canada and widespread production cutbacks due to the pandemic-driven collapse in demand.

In Houston, diesel spot prices are trading at more than 40 cents per gallon higher than 87-unleaded gasoline after selling for a discount earlier in the month. This translates to much better returns on diesel production versus gasoline. The spread between Nymex diesel and West Texas Intermediate crude is holding over $22 a barrel compared with under $5 for gasoline and WTI.

Profits from diesel are the one thing keeping some refineries running, Energy Aspects oil analyst Robert Campbell said. “There has to be some sort of margin to keep up supply and that cannot come from any product but diesel right now,” he said.

Online retail and medical deliveries have kept demand for trucking strong, analysts said. Futures interest in trucking rates off the West Coast has been strong since last week as shippers try to lock in rates before what they expect will be a spike, he said.

“It’s the best house in a bad neighborhood,” Campbell said.

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