Crude Oil Prices Little Changed Following Inventory Report

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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 a million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 532.3 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 fell by 840,000 barrels in the week ending April 7. API also reported gasoline supplies increased by 1.4 million barrels and distillate inventories decreased by 1.8 million barrels. For the same period, an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts had consensus estimates for a decrease of 50,000 barrels in crude inventories, a decline of 2 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 1.4 million barrels in distillate stockpiles.

Total gasoline inventories increased by 1.5 million barrels last week, according to the EIA, and are now near the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the agency’s measure of consumption) averaged over 9.3 million barrels a day for the past four weeks, down by 0.7% compared with the same period a year ago.

Platts oil futures editor Geoffrey Craig said:

U.S. refinery utilization has climbed the last two months as facilities recover from winter maintenance programs and ramp up to meet peak summer demand. Greater refinery activity tends to draw stocks lower from May until early September, but last week’s inventory report suggests that process could already be underway.

The possibility that rising U.S. crude production could limit the size of seasonal draws and exacerbate builds might leave prices stuck in a narrow range and eventually convince some money managers to liquidate length. Even though money managers have reduced their net length compared with earlier this year, which included a record net long position of 405,328 contracts February 21, the group remains weighted heavily toward bullish bets.

The most recent reporting period showed money manager length outnumbering short positions by a ratio of 4.6:1. That could leave the market vulnerable to downside risk if money managers rush to exit their long positions, which would put pressure on prices as traders place sale orders.

Before the EIA report, benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May delivery traded essentially flat at around $52.42 a barrel and dipped to $52.35 shortly after the report’s release. WTI crude settled at $52.41 on Tuesday. The 52-week range on May futures is $44.33 to $57.50.

Distillate inventories fell by 2 million barrels last week but remain in the upper half of the average range for this time of year. Distillate product supplied averaged 4.3 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up 9.9% compared with the same period last year. Distillate production averaged about 5.2 million barrels a day last week, up about 100,000 barrels a day compared with the prior week’s production.

For the past week, crude imports averaged over 7.8 million barrels a day, down by about 68,000 barrels a day compared with the previous week. Refineries were running at 92.9% of capacity, with daily input averaging over 16.9 million barrels a day, about 241,000 barrels a day more than the previous week’s average.

According to AAA, the current national average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $2.409, up just over a penny from $2.398 a week ago and up nearly 12 cents per gallon compared with the month-ago price. Last year at this time, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $2.111 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 up about 0.2%, at $81.24 in a 52-week range of $80.31 to $95.55. Over the past 12 months, Exxon stock has traded down about 6% and is down about 21.4% since August 2014, as of Tuesday’s close.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) traded up about 0.3%, at $105.94 in a 52-week range of $97.53 to $119.00. As of last night’s close, Chevron shares have added about 5.2% over the past 12 months and trade down nearly 21% since August 2014.

The United States Oil ETF (NYSEMKT: USO) traded down about 0.5%, at $10.983 in a 52-week range of $9.23 to $12.45.

The VanEck Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEMKT: OIH) traded down about 0.2% to $29.67, in a 52-week range of $26.10 to $36.35.