This year began with fairly robust gasoline imports, as the price for gasoline in New York Harbor averaged a seven-cent premium over the ARA hub for the last ten days of December 2011, opening up the arbitrage window to draw supplies from Europe into the East Coast market. Monthly data for 2012 show U.S. imports of gasoline were 840,000 bbl/d in January, due in part to the trans-Atlantic price differential. However, New York Harbor's premium to ARA shrank to an average of just two cents per gallon during February and March, lessening the incentive to ship discretionary gasoline volumes across the Atlantic. In those two months, U.S. imports of gasoline averaged almost 190,000 bbl/d less than in January, at a time when imports typically begin to ramp up during refinery maintenance season.
Weekly data indicate gasoline imports into the United States have remained sluggish in the second quarter of this year. After falling in February and March, trans-Atlantic price differentials generally have not been strong enough to attract significant discretionary exports to the U.S. market over the past few months. Since the beginning of April, conventional gasoline in New York Harbor has traded, on average, at parity with gasoline in the ARA hub, significantly less than the premium required to pull supplies across the Atlantic. Weekly data show gasoline imports into the East Coast averaged 826,000 bbl/d in the four weeks leading up to June 15, a decrease of about 25 percent compared to 2011. However, this trend is by no means guaranteed to continue. New York Harbor's premium to Europe has firmed somewhat in June, which has resulted in some increased gasoline volumes coming to the United States. For the week ending June 15, U.S. gasoline imports were 988,000 bbl/d, the highest since January. Additionally, the return of the idled Petroplus refineries in Europe could add more gasoline to that market, possibly weighing on ARA spot prices. Meanwhile, while not an immediate concern, the possible closure of Sunoco's Philadelphia refinery on August 1, if no buyer is found, could have the opposite effect on East Coast markets.