U.S. ethanol output plunged to its lowest level in nearly two years as soaring corn prices pushed many biofuel refineries into the red, government data showed on Wednesday.
At least three U.S. ethanol plants -- two in Nebraska and one in Indiana -- are idling as the highest corn prices in more than a year squeeze margins in the worst spell since a string of bankruptcies in 2007 and 2008.
Ethanol production last week fell 4 percent, or 36,000 barrels per day to 821,000 bpd, the lowest since the week ending July 23, 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Stocks of the biofuel fell 761,000 barrels to 19.53 million barrels, the lowest since January.
"It's high corn prices and not-so-high ethanol prices," said Wally Tyner, an energy economist at Purdue University. "If we continue to have drought and corn continues to go up, there will be others that suspend production."
Ethanol plants are losing money, with the average margin in Illinois at a negative 32 cents per gallon of fuel produced, according to Reuters data. And margins could get worse, with the existing corn stockpile dwindling and the conditions of the developing crop the worst in 24 years due to sizzling temperatures and drought conditions in the U.S. Midwest.