US shares trade flat, gasoline up after 'Sandy'

Posted at 11/01/2012 8:37 AM

NEW YORK - Wall Street resumed trading on Wednesday with shares ending near break-even after monster storm Sandy forced a two-day closure due to weather for the first time since 1888, but U.S. gasoline futures surged in the face of potentially long-term supply disruptions at the East Coast's second-largest refinery.

The storm left swaths of the region crippled by flooding and power outages, suggesting lower fuel consumption. But gasoline futures for November hit their highest level in more than two weeks as traders scrambled to cover positions ahead of the contract's expiry later Wednesday.

U.S. lumber futures soared on expectations for increased demand, while gasoline surged on concerns that a Phillips 66 refinery in Linden, New Jersey, could shut for an extended period after Sandy cut power to the plant that produces 238,000 barrels a day of fuel.

The storm, which killed at least 64 people, may cause up to $15 billion in insured losses, according to one disaster-modeling company. Speculators were behind much of the buying in lumber and gasoline futures in anticipation of rising demand, traders said.

"You see a lot of funds hedging themselves and speculation there could be a lot of damage" from Sandy, said Richard Ilczyszyn, chief market strategist and founder of iitrader.com LLC in Chicago.

Contracts for November, January and March lumber futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rose by the daily trading limit of $10 per thousand board feet and remained locked at those levels, effectively shutting down trading.

Many traders were unable to get to their offices or work from home because of wide-ranging power outages and no or limited public transit across the region.

The New York Stock Exchange re-opened, though not everything was back to normal. Cell phone reception was sketchy on NYSE's floor, so traders milled outside to make calls, e-mail or text.

"The open was a positive relief after four days of sitting on edge," said Larry Leibowitz, chief operating officer at the exchange's operator, NYSE Euronext. "No matter how much planning you do, you can't foresee that kind of flooding."

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 10.67 points, or 0.08 percent, at 13,096.54. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 0.22 points, or 0.02 percent, at 1,412.16. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 0.36 percent, or 10.72 points, at 2,977.23.

For the month, the Dow fell 2.5 percent, the S&P 500 slipped 2 percent and the Nasdaq was off 4.5 percent.

MSCI's all-country world equity index was up 0.01 percent at 329.16, on track for its first monthly loss since May. The index has gained more than 10 percent so far this year.

In Europe, stocks dipped after a mixed batch of corporate earnings, pressured by heavyweight British oil and gas firm BG Group, which warned of no production growth next year.

The FTSEurofirst 300 closed down 0.6 percent at 1,096.38. BG slumped 13.7 percent to 1,147.5 pence, the biggest loser on Britain's blue-chip FTSE 100 index.

Crude oil prices were mixed, with Brent crude closing below $109 a barrel. Brent for December delivery fell 38 cents to settle at $108.70. U.S. light sweet crude oil settled up 56 cents at $86.24 a barrel.

U.S. Treasury debt prices rose on month-end extension trades as trading resumed after Sandy shut the bond market for a day and a half.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 4/32 in price to yield 1.6962 percent.

The euro edged up against the dollar and headed toward its third straight month of gains. But uncertainty about the heavily indebted euro-zone economies was set to limit further strength.

The euro rose 0.01 percent against the dollar to $1.2957.