Crude Oil Inventory Dips, Counters Lower Hopes for OPEC Cuts

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories decreased by 600,000 barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 468.2 million barrels. The commercial crude inventory remains near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories jumped by 4.8 million barrels in the week ending October 21. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 1.7 million barrels and distillate inventories dropped 900,000 barrels. For the same period, analysts had estimated an increase of 1.69 million barrels in crude inventories, along with a drop of 963,000 barrels in gasoline supplies and a decrease of 1.41 million barrels of distillates.

Total gasoline inventories dropped by 2 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain well above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged over 9.1 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 0.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

The rise in crude prices following the “agreement” among OPEC members to limit production appears to have ended. Crude prices peaked at $51.60 just over two weeks again and have struggled to maintain the $50 a barrel level ever since. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was losing that battle again on Wednesday.

Recent news that Iraq wants to preserve its production levels has signaled its intention to resist any OPEC-directed cuts. Iraq’s oil minister has estimated the country’s September production at 4.774 million barrels a day and expects production to rise slightly higher in October.

And even if OPEC members do agree on production levels, that is not the same as adhering to them. The cartel has a very poor track record on getting its members to do the agreed-upon thing.

Perhaps an equally important issue for OPEC is how quickly North American producers can ramp up production again now that prices have reached $50 a barrel. U.S. and Canadian shale fields were able to turn the taps off more quickly than expected and now we may find out how quickly they can be turned back on.

Before the EIA report, WTI crude for December delivery traded down nearly 2% at around $48.90 a barrel and moved higher to around $49.80 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $49.96 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on December futures is $34.06 to $53.66.

Distillate inventories decreased by 3.4 million barrels last week but remain above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged about 4.1 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 2.5% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged over 4.5 million barrels a day last week, down about 100,000 compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged over 7 million barrels a day, up by 109,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 85.6% of capacity, with daily input averaging about 15.6 million barrels, about 182,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average. Refinery utilization remains low as maintenance and turnaround continue, but this low refining period is about over until the next round in the spring.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.228, down from $2.235 a week ago and up about three cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.200 on average in the United States.

Here is a look at how share prices for two blue-chip stocks and two exchange traded funds reacted to this latest report.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) traded down about 0.5%, at $86.33 in a 52-week range of $71.55 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up more than 6% and is down nearly 16% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up about 0.4%, at $101.20 in a 52-week range of $75.33 to $107.58. As of the most recent close, Chevron shares have added nearly 13% over the past 12 months and trade down more than 24% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded up around 0.4%, at $11.29 in a 52-week range of $7.67 to $15.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.3% to $29.49, in a 52-week range of $20.46 to $32.78.