Shutdown stops flow of government oil and gas data

Oil traders and energy analysts who rely on government reports about the nation’s stockpile of crude and natural gas are about to be disappointed.

The government shutdown has effectively canceled closely watched weekly crude and gas inventory reports, along with demand assessments and other data streaming from the federal Energy Information Administration.

EIA spokesman Jonathan Cogan said the agency would cease operations and furlough its staff at the end of Friday.

“Data releases and analyses will not be published during the furlough of EIA staff,” Cogan said. “The website and our social media channels will not be updated.”

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Among those missing reports, the biggest blow may be those weekly inventories. Analysts slice and dice the government data a number of ways.

David Pursell, head of securities for Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., said the inventory numbers from the government act as a check on his own supply and demand model.

“It’s hard to know what . . . all the different demand pieces are real time, but it’s pretty easy to count oil in a tank and gas in storage,” Pursell said. The government stockpile numbers are leading “indicators of whether we are oversupplied or undersupplied.”

Investors and economists already have been missing out on other data from separate federal agencies. Crop reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been suspended. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics is no longer issuing the closely watched monthly jobs report.

Without that payrolls report, some analysts have been turning to a private-sector substitute from Automatic Data Processing. The payroll company calculates private-sector job numbers.

But Pursell said there are no ideal substitutes for the government’s oil and gas inventory reports.

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It is unclear how long the energy data will be halted. Even if Congress reaches a deal to fund the federal government, it could take a while for numbers to resume flowing from EIA.

“EIA will strive to restore service as quickly as possible after EIA opens,” Cogan said. “The schedules for resumption of data releases and reports will be determined after the furlough period is over.”