Crude Oil Prices Remain Lower After Massive Inventory Addition

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 8.2 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 528.4 million barrels, the highest level since the EIA began keeping records in 1982. The commercial crude inventory remained above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.

Tuesday evening the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by a massive 11.6 million barrels in the week ending March 3. API also reported gasoline supplies decreased by 5 million barrels and distillate inventories decreased by 2.9 million barrels. For the same period, analysts surveyed by S&P Global Platts had estimated an increase of 1.6 million barrels in crude inventories, a decline of 2 million barrels in gasoline inventories, and a drop of 1.1 million barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 6.6 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and remain above the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged about 8.8 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 6.1% compared with the same period a year ago.

The current production cuts by members of OPEC and several other major producers, including Russia, are expected to drive crude prices to more than $55 a barrel, with a near-term target of $60. At that price, U.S. shale producers are very likely to ramp up production because virtually all of them can make a profit at that price.

While increasing production for a well that has been drilled but not completed doesn’t happen overnight, it is true that costs have come down. Lower costs are tossing sand in the gears of the production cuts to the point that it may well be necessary for OPEC and its friends to maintain the cuts through the second half of 2017.

There is some question about how much of lower costs are attributable to structural (permanent) changes and how much are the result of cyclical (temporary) changes. Oilfield services costs, for example, have dropped substantially as companies try to maintain some cash flow. At some point, however, services costs will demonstrate their cyclical nature and begin to rise.

Conversely, structural changes such as increasing the amount of sand used to frack a well are likely permanent because it raises the productivity of the well. But this change is also subject to cyclical factors, such as the price for sand that has risen as new rigs continue to be added in the top U.S. shale plays.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for April delivery traded down about 1.3 at around $52.45 a barrel and rose to $52.56 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $53.14 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on April futures is $40.97 to $56.92.

Distillate inventories fell by 2.7 million barrels last week but remain near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged about 4 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up 12.6% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged 4.8 million barrels a day last week, essentially flat compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged about 8.2 million barrels a day, up by about 561000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 85.9% of capacity, with daily input averaging 15.5 million barrels, about 172,000 barrels a day less than the previous week’s average.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.306, up from $2.30 a week ago and up about four cents compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $1.812 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 $82.09 in a 52-week range of $80.76 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded up about 0.3% and is down about 20% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded down about 0.5%, at $111.25 in a 52-week range of $89.47 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added more than 29% over the past 12 months and trade down more than 13% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 1%, at $11.16 in a 52-week range of $8.99 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.5% to $31.34, in a 52-week range of $25.13 to $36.35.